Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

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.

Welcome To EMRA, Formerly WDFW?

“You have reached the Ecosystem Management and Recreation Agency. If you have a question about hunting regulations, press 1. If you would like to reserve a campground at a state park, press 2. If you have a question about state wildlife areas, please call the DNR.”

That’s a phone greeting you might hear in the future if one particular consolidation scenario that Washington’s natural resources agencies are looking at comes to fruition.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gregoire asked the state’s Departments of Fish & Wildlife, Natural Resources, Parks, Health, Agriculture, Ecology and other groups to come up with ideas on how to reform management of their agencies, reduce costs and improve service delivery.

A week or so ago, the departments issued a 172-page document that looked at several scenarios combining the resource divisions into two, three, four and five agencies.

Basically for WDFW, the more individual agencies there are, the more the department’s functions might be split off.

Also, law enforcement functions would be combined with DNR and placed under the State Patrol or made into a separate agency.

It’s a lot to chew on, but you have about a month to try and digest it all. Public comments are being accepted through October 28.

Here’s a rough overview, courtesy of WDFW, on how it might all sort out for the department:

Overview:  Natural resource reform ideas and WDFW programs

Concepts in the “Ideas to Improve Management of Washington’s Natural Resources” document would have significant effects on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) organization and functions, with effects varying by option. This overview indicates where existing WDFW programs and activities would be placed under the various options.

Agency organization

The following ideas are outlined on pages 21-68 of the document as ways to reorganize natural resource agency structure:

1. Two-Agency Model – Would reorganize existing natural resource agencies into the following two new agencies:

1. Department of Environmental Regulation, which would manage environmental permits, land use, and other environmental issues. WDFW’s Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) program would be placed here under this model.

2. Department of Resource, Recreation, and Land Management, which would manage state lands and recreation.   WDFW’s fishing and hunting management, including commercial fishery management, would be placed here under this model. Management of salmon recovery, wildlife areas and water-access sites, and financial assistance for fish-passage projects also would be placed here.

2. Three-Agency Model – Would reorganize existing agencies into the following three new agencies:

1. Environmental Protection Agency, which would manage pollution impacts and land use.

2. Agriculture and Natural Resources Land Management Agency, which would manage state conservation and working lands (agriculture, logging, etc.) Management of WDFW wildlife habitat lands would be placed here under this model.

3. Recreation, Resources, and Ecosystem Conservation Agency, which would manage fish, wildlife and recreation; regulate hydraulic approvals; and address ecosystem-based management and recovery.  WDFW’s work with tribal natural resource co-managers, species conservation, hatchery management, fishing and hunting season-setting, hydraulic project approvals (HPAs), and management of recreational wildlife areas and water-access sites would be placed here under this model.

3. Four-Agency Model –Would keep the departments of Ecology, Agriculture, and Natural Resources remaining as they are and would create a new “Ecosystem Management and Recreation Agency.”

WDFW would be merged with State Parks to form a new Ecosystem Management and Recreation agency , under this model.   The Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Parks Commission would be combined into a single commission, or WDFW and Parks would be put under the authority of the Governor with a single advisory commission. Most current WDFW functions would be administered through this new, merged agency. (Except, as in the three-agency model, management of wildlife habitat lands would be placed in the Department of Natural Resources.)

4. Five-Agency Model –Would create five independent agencies and shift programs from current agencies to align related programs:

1. Environmental Protection Agency, which would manage pollution impacts and land use.

2. Agricultural Agency, which would support and promote agriculture.

3. Public Land Management Agency, which would manage state-owned lands. WDFW wildlife lands (both habitat and recreation lands) and water-access sites would be placed here under this model.

4. Resource and Ecosystem Conservation Agency, which would manage public resources (fish and wildlife), regulate natural resources activities, and address ecosystem-based management and recovery.  WDFW’s work with tribal resource co-managers; species conservation; hunting and fishing season-setting; and hatchery management all would be placed here under this model. The Puget Sound Partnership and the Salmon Recovery office, Biodiversity Council and Invasive Species Council also would be placed here under this model.

5. Environmental and Natural Resources Financial Assistance Agency, which would provide leadership and accountability for all natural resources and environmental grant and loan programs.  Natural resource grant and loan programs would be placed here under this model.

Note: Under all of the above agency-reorganization models, WDFW and DNR law enforcement functions either would move to the Washington State Patrol or be constituted as a combined stand-alone agency. The enforcement reorganization concepts are detailed under the “Sharing Services and Functions” section below.
The remaining reorganization ideas would not require agency consolidation to be implemented.

5. Unified State Vision – This concept would create a unified vision for all natural resources agencies to better enable state government to focus scarce time and money on the most important things. Under this idea, agencies would create a unified vision, mission, goals and outcomes for natural-resource management through strategic planning. Agencies would identify a common set of environmental threats and would prioritize and synchronize management strategies, and then collaborate to achieve the goals.

6. Re-align Regional Boundaries and Co-locate Regional Offices – Under this idea agencies, over time, would combine and relocate their current regional offices into regional offices made up of multiple agency employees, supported by shared work centers. WDFW’s existing regional boundaries likely would change under this model.

7. Collaborative Ecosystem-based Management – Under this idea, agencies would collaboratively establish goals and priorities in eco-regions, which are large geographic areas (such as Puget Sound), that have topographical and ecological characteristics that differentiate them from other eco-regions. This idea could use science and local planning and prioritization processes to better focus state efforts.

8. Formalize Multi-Agency Collaboration —Under this concept—known as “structured collaboration”—cross-agency teams and formal working relationships would be established among agencies. These cross-agency teams would have dedicated employees, budgets, and missions that focus on strategy, coordinated responses and shared responsibilities.  Multi-agency collaboration efforts could include current WDFW activities such as salmon recovery, watershed heath, state-tribal resource co-management, permit streamlining and state land acquisition.

Sharing Services and Functions

Ideas presented on pages 69-116 of the document address potential efficiencies that do not involve broad, multi-agency reorganization:

1. Share Geographic Information System (GIS) technology used to inventory, manage and map information about Washington’s natural and human-built environment. This information is used to manage natural resources, protect Washington’s environment, and ensure public safety.  WDFW’s GIS work would be included in this effort.

2. Coordinate Citizen Science –Under this idea, agencies and citizens would better collaborate to gather data.  The state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) would be the lead agency in scoping, testing and implementing the citizen science project. WDFW’s citizen science efforts would be included in this coordinated approach.

3. Consolidate Natural Resources Law Enforcement – Several ideas are presented on pages 86-97 of the document:

1. Reclassify all natural resource agency law enforcement officers to expand their authority to that of general police officers. WDFW’s Enforcement Program already is designated as a general authority law enforcement entity; this change would affect DNR officers.

2. Combine law enforcement officers from the WDFW and DNR into an independent agency.

3. Create a Natural Resource Enforcement Bureau within the Washington State Patrol, staffed with enforcement officers from WDFW and DNR. WDFW officers would become part of the Washington State Patrol under this option.

4. Consolidate Grants and Loans – Two ideas are presented on pages 98-116 of the document:

1. Create a Natural Resources Financial Assistance Agency that would co-locate current grant and loan programs. This one agency would develop a web-based portal for customer access; standardize forms and reporting; and coordinate compliance of contractual obligations.

2. Create a Natural Resources Grants and Loans Council, which would create a centralized information portal and develop common forms, procedures, protocols, and performance measures. Under the council, grants and loans would remain in multiple agencies, but some of the current grant programs would be aligned along functional lines.  WDFW’s grant programs, including the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA), Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Migration Act, Landowner Incentive Program, Partnerships for Pheasants, and Grants to Wildlife Rehabilitators, would be included in these concepts.

Improving Environmental Protection, Permitting and Compliance

Concepts to improve environmental protection and permitting (on pages 117-146 of the document) include ideas to:

1. Update the Growth Management Act.

2. Expand pilot projects testing consolidated and coordinated permitting systems. WDFW’s Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) program could be included in this effort.

3. Grant agencies authority to do permit by rule and expand programmatic permits that create blanket requirements applicants must comply with in order to receive hydraulic project permits. Under this concept WDFW could develop programmatic HPAs for DNR forest-practice activities on state trust lands, and for maintenance activities associated with water crossings, overwater structures and bank-protection structures.

4. Consolidate regulation of dairy’s manure waste from two agencies to one.

5. Target delivery of incentive-based programs for landowners–Under this idea, the state Conservation Commission would be the point of contact for incentive programs. Conservation districts would coordinate with state, federal, local and tribal agencies to provide a package of tailored incentives to a landowner.  WDFW would be added to the State Conservation Commission as a full member under this concept. WDFW current participates only as an observer.

6. Implement Outcome-Based Environmental Management–Under this idea, the state would shift its emphasis for managing environmental resources from a single resource view to a view that attempts to achieve larger ecosystem objectives, such as restoration of endangered species and restoration of watershed processes. Under this concept, state agencies would aim to jointly administer natural-resource compliance monitoring and enforcement activities. WDFW species and habitat monitoring and enforcement activities would be included in this concept.

Streamlining quasi-judicial boards

Streamlining ideas, presented on pages 145-166 of the document, include concepts to:

1. Move Environmental Cases to Boards with Environmental Expertise—This would move general hydraulic permit appeals, surface mining reclamation permit appeals and derelict vessel appeals from the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) to boards with environmental expertise. General HPA appeals would be moved under this concept.

2. Redesign Boards into a single Environmental and Land Use Adjudicatory Agency – Under this idea the functions performed under the Environmental Hearings Office and the Growth Management Hearings Boards would be merged into a single adjudicative agency containing two major quasi-judicial components:  Appeals of natural resources and environmental regulatory matters, and land use related appeals. The Hydraulic Appeals Board would be moved out of the Environmental Hearings Office and would become part of the Pollution Control Hearings Board under this concept.

3. Growth Management Hearings Boards Efficiency and Structure.

4. Eliminate Duplicative Administrative Review for Certain Agency Decisions—This idea would eliminate the ability to request remission or mitigation of civil penalties from the Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources. Appeals of the civil penalty would go directly to the appropriate board. WDFW administrative orders and rule-making would be included in this concept.

5. Address Separate Appeals of Shoreline Master Programs—In this concept, all shoreline Master Program appeals would be referred to the Land Use Planning Appeals Board, which would consist of panels from members of the Growth Management Hearings Board and the Shoreline Hearings Board.

A Weekend On High

Northwest Sportsman contributor Jason Brooks spent last weekend on high, but when he got home, he wrote up the successful deer hunting trip for friends less able to get into Washington’s Cascades.

This particular “notebook” entry details how Chad Hurst, brother Kyle Hurst and he hunted in the Glacier Peak Wilderness during Washington’s legendary mid-September High Buck Hunt.

Rest assured, the boys were wearing orange while they hunted.

Mr. Brooks, take it away. — The Editor

Our weekend adventure started last Friday with an awesome day to hike into the high country. It was a short 3 miles into camp, but 2,000 feet up! Camp was set up just shy of 6,000 feet, but it was comfy.

(JASON BROOKS)

(JASON BROOKS)

It was a great evening to do a little glassing and we put to bed one really nice buck with some other deer, and a big bear, all in the same avalanche chute about a mile away.

brooks 2

The next morning we woke to rain and fog and a cold western wind. We hiked about 4 miles in the dark and fog and were able to find a cut at 6,400 ft through the granite ridge. Once on the other side and out of the wind it became a waiting game for the fog to clear.

brooks 3

brooks 4

And when it did finally open up for us, we realize we were still one drainage over from where we needed to be.

brooks 5

We learned the “hard way” that the only way into the small basin with the deer and the big bear was another 2 mile hike up and over another pass, and then you had to go along the base of the granite cliffs to find the cut and climb through it…it was now 4:30 and we were about 6 miles from camp on a cold, wet, windy day…we also had another nice bear below us about a mile away but realized that by the time we got to him it would be dark (about 1,000 feet below us).

So we headed back to camp. I got a grouse on the way back and we fried up some “grouse nuggets” for diner.  Finally a good night sleep under the tarp in my bivy bag, and we woke the next morning to more fog and it spitting snow on us. However Chad could see the basin below was in the sunshine so we waited about an hour and it burned off.

We started down the trail to another overlook for some glassing and on the way Chad spotted some deer. A nice 3×4 was with some does just over 500 yards away, of course downhill. We put on a sneak and closed the distance to 353 yards per the rangefinder (that is the compensated yardage for the downhill slope). The buck was up and feeding and we couldn’t get any closer and still see him due to the thick huckleberry patch he was in. So we sat down, steadied our rifles and Chad fired…then Kyle fired…and WOW! What a shot, the buck flipped over and was dead right there…Kyle hit him in the neck and said he put the crosshairs right at the deer’s ear…the bullet dropped about 12-14 inches and hit home! Chad felt he shot just over the deer and overcompensated for the yardage.

Here is a photo from where we shot to where Kyle’s deer was…it was in the small red patch you see past the dead snag.

brooks 6

Zoomed in a bit for a better look…what an awesome shot!

brooks 7

And here is the deer…not bad for only his second buck! He took up hunting 2 years ago and killed a 3×3 his first year…pretty much sat out last year due to a knee injury, and then bought his 30-06 (savage 110 combo) from Cabelas this summer…first time he pulled the trigger on an animal with this gun…oh, and I guess I can’t give him a bad time anymore for using over the counter Remington Core-loks…even if they do suck! J

brooks 8

Here is Chad still in disbelief at his brother’s shot…or maybe he is realizing how far it is back up to the top of the mountain and our camp…!

brooks 9

Another great weekend adventure! I can honestly say that at times during this hunt it was extreme…going over granite peaks, cutting across scree fields with boulders as big as cars, and the shear steepness of the country, but it was also one of the most fun and rewarding hunts I have ever been on.

Next weekend is my muzzle loader hunt in the high country with my Dad…I can’t wait. – Jason Brooks

Coho (And Walleye) At Carrolls

A friend of mine just phoned HQ to report the salmon-fishing jinx was off as he and his father trolled Carrolls Slough, on the Washington side of the Columbia, this morning.

He was also pretty excited about catching a 15- or 16-inch walleye, which took me a little by surprise.

That bite, according to recent reports, has mainly been in the Camas/Washougal area on up.

The Spencers have so far boated a nice-sized coho and released a slightly smaller Chinook (the Columbia is closed for kings below the Lewis).

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

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

They’ve been trolling plugs with the rest of the fleet of 50 boats or so. Joe Hymer’s weekly Southwest Washington fishing roundup yesterday reports good coho action at the mouth of the Cowlitz, just downstream from Carrolls.

Chris is dragging around a red Hot Lips with a yellow eye (he’s the walleye guy) and pa James (the salmon dude) is pulling a smaller tiger-striped Wart-style plug.

Two other fish have come off, Chris reports.

He took the day off to target walleye specifically, but says his dad is in “full salmon mode.”

ONE OF TWO COHO LANDED SEPT. 22 BY JAMES SPENCER OF KALAMA. (CHRIS SPENCER)

ONE OF TWO COHO LANDED SEPT. 22 BY JAMES SPENCER OF KALAMA. (CHRIS SPENCER)

And so would we be with all the coho in Southwest Washington right now.

Then again, this of the walleye at Carrolls is pretty interesting.

POST SCRIPT: I fired off that report about 45 minutes ago and went back to talking to Eastern Washington steelheaders. While I was doing so, I got two very excited voice messages from Spencer. To wit:

PHONE CALL 1: “Five minutes after I got off the phone with you, I got a silver to the boat, but he snapped my line and saw him jumping with my plug in its mouth. About a half hour to 45 minutes later, I managed to boat one. Fish on!!”

PHONE CALL 2: “Sorry about that last message. I literally caught a fish while I was leaving you a message. Gimme a call. I’m done fishing for the day. For the first time ever, I limited out on salmon.”

Big Changes Proposed For Steelhead, Sturgeon

When WDFW fired off a press release about their 2010-2012 fishing rule proposals on Wednesday, I posted some of the “highlights” here and a link to more information, then went back to hammering the last bits of the October issue into shape.

But I took the 100-page document home that night for further study.

Glad I did, because the deeper I read into it, the more my eyebrows rose.

WDFW is proposing a lot of big changes that steelheaders, Columbia River oversize sturgeon and salmon anglers, rockfishers and trout fishermen should keep an eye on.

Some of the tweaks would change the face of fisheries, and would result in less opportunity for us — but at the same time protect troubled stocks.

COLUMBIA RIVER

Anglers who back-troll FlatFish or Kwikfish or big spinners below the dams or troll Warts in the pools above for salmon or steelhead should know about proposal 31.

It would require anglers to ditch all their trebles for single, barbless hooks everywhere from the mouth of the Columbia up to McNary Dam.

“It’s going to hurt sport fishing, there’s no doubt, it’s going to hurt sport fishing,” says Buzz Ramsey, a noted Columbia River salmon and steelhead angler, brand manager for Yakima Baits and Northwest Sportsman columnist.

WDFW explains that the requirement would make it easier to release fish.

STEELHEAD

WDFW wants to chop two weeks off winter steelhead season on North Puget Sound rivers, just as wild stocks begin to return to them.

They want to move the last day of season from the end of February to midmonth on the Nooksack system, Pilchuck River, much of Pilchuck Creek, all of the Raging and  Snohomish, most of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie, and lower Stillaguamish rivers.

On the Skagit, selective-gear requirements from mouth up to Highway 536 would begin half a month earlier (Feb. 15) and the catch-and-release season from The Dalles Bridge to the Cascade would begin a month earlier as well.

The intent, explains WDFW, is to “provide more protection for wild steelhead present in these rivers. Most hatchery steelhead will have cleared these areas by the middle of February, so anglers are fishing for wild fish (catch-and-release) until the end of the month under current rules.”

However, hatchery steelhead areas such as the Sky from the Wallace to the forks, Snoqualmie above Plumb Landing and North Fork Stilly would remain open through the end of the month.

And a selective-gear, two-hatchery limit, fishing-from-an-unpowered-boat, Feb. 16-March 31 fishery would be opened from Highway 536 to The Dalles Bridge on the Skagit.

WDFW is also proposing a complex new “stream strategy” in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to protect waters that act as nurseries for juvenile anadromous fish. Rather than unlisted rivers, streams and beaver ponds being open under statewide rules and seasons, if they weren’t in the regulations, they would be considered closed waters.

“… Much of the juvenile rearing habitat for resident trout and Dolly Varden and anadromous salmon, steelhead, cutthroat, and Bull Trout is currently open for fishing. As a result, these juvenile salmonids are at risk of being incidentally caught and may not survive being handled and released, especially if bait is used,” the state explains.

The agency wants to reduce the number of rivers open for wild steelhead retention by three by closing seasons on the Hoko and Pysht rivers on the Coast and the Green River in King County.

While return numbers on the Hoko and Pysht are meeting goals, WDFW cites declining sport harvest, “an indication of a reduced return of an already small stock, and the need for a more cautious management approach.”

The number of unclipped steelhead on the Green has also been shrinking in recent years, they say.

WDFW also proposes to move back retention seasons on coastal streams from December 1 to February 16. Not many wilds are kept during that timeframe on the Sol Duc, Hoh, Bogachiel and others, but WDFW wants to protect the early segment of the run to promote diversity within the stocks.

“In the past, these early runs were large and known to migrate higher in the watershed during early high flows and occupy spawning areas not often accessed by later running fish,” a state document explains.

And as a preventive measure, the state is calling for new selective gear rules on all of the South Fork Calawah and parts of the Bogachiel, Hoh and Sol Duc, and catch-and-release (except for hatchery steelhead) on the latter two streams.

ROCKFISH

Perhaps hoping to stave off an Endangered Species Act listing, rockfish would be completely off-limits in Puget Sound, the San Juans and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca. The daily catch now is the first legal one caught (yelloweye and canary rockfish can’t be retained).

“Populations of several species of rockfish have been in decline and the Federal government has proposed that three species of rockfish be listed under the Endangered Species Act; two species (canary and yelloweye) as threatened and one species (bocaccio) as endangered,” WDFW explains.

And in the western and central Straits, retention would be barred in waters deeper than 120 feet.

STURGEON

Shad, that candy for sturgeon below Columbia River dams during “a biologically sensitive time of year,” would be outlawed, to protect broodstock populations, under one proposal.

“Large adult sturgeon inhale whole shade and often end up getting hooked so far down the throat that the hook cannot be removed. Staff conducting weekly surveys for dead sturgeon found that up to 40% of oversize sturgeon carcasses contained hooks in the gut,” WDFW explains.

The agency appears to admit it wants to shift the focus of the sturgeon fishery to the smaller, legal-sized fish.

“Sport fishery opportunity can be maintained as focused on legal-sized fish with over-sized as incidental handle as opposed to an advertised exploitable resource,” says WDFW.

TROUT

To spread out the catch, daily limits for larger trout would be reduced at Blackmans Lake in Snohomish and Beaver Lake in King County as well as nearly five dozen others in Pierce, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, and Thurston counties where WDFW wants to begin planting bigger rainbows.

OTHER SPECIES

Other proposals include:

* Closing the west end of Sprague Lake to fishing to protect water birds

* Making the bank-fishing-only area at Drano Lake during spring Chinook fisheries permanent

* Encourage the harvest of hatchery summer Chinook over unclipped kings in the upper Columbia and Okanogan rivers with three-hatchery-fish OR one-wild king limits

* Reducing the daily Puget Sound crab limit to four from five but shifting the open days to Friday through Monday from Wednesday through Saturday.

The agency will hold seven meetings in the next month on all the proposals where the public can discuss the ideas with state staffers.

Meetings will be held:

Sept. 28 – WDFW’s Ephrata Office, 1550 Alder St. N.W., Ephrata

Sept. 29 – WDFW’s Spokane Office, 2315 North Discovery Place, Spokane Valley

Sept. 30 – Carpenter’s Hall, 507 Third St., Yakima

Oct. 6 – WDFW’s Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek

Oct. 7 – Peninsula College, 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd., Room J47, Port Angeles

Oct. 8 – WDFW’s Vancouver Office, 2108 Grand Blvd., Vancouver

Oct. 13 – WDFW Headquarters, Natural Resources Building, Room 172, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia

Every meeting except the one in Port Angeles starts at 6 p.m. The one in PA begins at 6:30 p.m.

The public will also have an opportunity to provide testimony and written comments on the proposed rule changes during the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Nov. 6-7 meeting in Olympia.

The commission will vote on final proposals in February.