Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

7-day Razor Clam Dig Coming Up; Tentative Jan., Feb. Openers Set

THE FOLLOWING IS APRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Razor clam diggers can return to ocean beaches for a seven-day opening beginning Dec. 10.

COPALIS, WHERE THESE RAZOR CLAMMERS ENJOYED A NIGHT DIG, IS ONE OF TWO WASHINGTON COAST BEACHES THAT WILL OPEN IN THE COMING DAYS. (DAN AYRES, WDFW)

State shellfish managers with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the dig on evening low tides after marine toxin tests showed the clams are safe to eat.

The approved dig is for the following beaches, dates and low tides:

  • December 10, Tuesday, 5:28 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 11, Wednesday, 6:06 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 12, Thursday, 6:45 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 13, Friday, 7:26 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 14, Saturday, 8:08 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 15, Sunday, 8:53 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 16, Monday, 9:41 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

No digging is allowed before noon for allowed digs, when low tide occurs in the evening.

“We also were able to pencil out tentative dates, and upcoming digs bring a ton of opportunity to harvest clams well into the new year,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager.

In order to ensure conservation of clams for future generations, WDFW sets tentative razor clam seasons that are based on the results from an annual coast-wide razor clam stock assessment and by considering harvest to date. WDFW authorizes each dig independently after getting the results of marine toxin testing.

Proposed razor clam digs for Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks include:

  • December 23, Monday, 4:35 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 26, Thursday, 6:47 pm, -1.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 27, Friday, 7:26 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • December 28, Saturday, 8:05 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • December 29, Sunday, 8:43 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • January 8, Wednesday, 5:05 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 9, Thursday, 5:47 pm -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 10, Friday, 6:29 pm -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 11, Saturday, 7:11 pm -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 12, Sunday, 7:53 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 13, Monday, 8:36 pm -1.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 14, Tuesday, 9:20 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • January 21, Tuesday, 4:23 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 22, Wednesday, 5:10 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 23, Thursday, 5:53 pm -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 24, Friday, 6:32 pm -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • January 25, Saturday, 7:08 pm -0.5 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • January 26, Sunday, 7:42 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis

 

  • February 6, Thursday, 4:40 pm -0.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 7, Friday, 5:26 pm -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 8, Saturday, 6:09 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 9, Sunday, 6:51 pm -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 10, Monday, 7:32 pm -1.3 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 11, Tuesday, 8:13 pm -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 12, Wednesday, 8:55 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

 

  • February 20, Thursday, 4:54 pm 0.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 21, Friday, 5:35 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
  • February 22, Saturday, 6:11 pm -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
  • February 23, Sunday, 6:44 pm -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Final approval of the tentatively scheduled openings will depend on whether results of marine toxin tests show the clams are safe to eat.

Ayres notes that low tides around New Years are not low enough for successful razor clam harvest, so digging will not open then.

WDFW is also asking razor clam fans around the state to weigh in on the perennial question: Which is better, clam gun or shovel? To register support for a favored digging method, clam diggers can post a photo or video, complete with hashtag #TeamClamShovel or #TeamClamGun on any social media before the end of the spring season.

Additional safety considerations are important this time of year. “Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark,” said Ayres.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2019-20 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any beach. Licenses, ranging from a three-day razor clam license to an annual combination fishing license, are available on WDFW’s website at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov and from license vendors around the state.

Under state law, diggers at open beaches can take 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 they dig. Each digger’s clams must be kept in a separate container.

6 Options For Liberalizing Washington Bass, Spinyray Limits Identified

Will it be the bag limit behind Door No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6?

WDFW staffers will present the Fish and Wildlife Commission a half dozen options for liberalizing bass, walleye and channel catfish retention in select waters across Washington later this month.

A STRINGER OF SMALLMOUTH DRAPE THE PROW OF A DRIFT BOAT ON OREGON’S UMPQUA RIVER. (VIA TROY RODAKOWSKI)

They range from the complete elimination of size and daily limits on 146 lakes to expanded bags but with standard slot size protections for spawners on a set of just 14 lakes which have Chinook runs in their headwaters.

The citizen panel is scheduled to make a final call the morning of Saturday, Dec. 14, at its meeting in Bellingham. Public comment will be taken.

They’re acting on a bill passed by the state legislature earlier this year.

While primarily strengthening habitat protections for Chinook, Substitute House Bill 1579 also requires the commission to liberalize limits on the three nonnative but popular warmwater species “in all anadromous waters of the state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.”

It was among a set of measures aimed at helping out endangered southern resident killer whales, which mostly feed on Chinook though also coho, chums and steelhead at select times of the year.

But bass anglers rebelled against WDFW’s initial proposal that would have eliminated rather than liberalized limits on 106 waters in Puget Sound, 18 in coastal watersheds, 12 in Southwest Washington and another dozen on the Eastside.

“We’re hoping today we can kinda come to some kind of consensus, maybe not to just destroy but can we surgically do something?” Phil Martin, president of the Mt. St. Helens Bassmasters, asked the commission in mid-October. “We’re conservative fishermen, we don’t want to destroy the fishery for anything, whether it be salmon, carp, bass, panfish. That’s what we do, but there’s got to be a better alternative than just genocide on the bass, walleye and catfish populations.”

And with commissioners pushing back as well, state fishery managers developed a matrix of six options, which differ based on how many waters they would affect and the extent of the liberalization.

Option A1 would be the full elimination of limits on all 146 lakes, while A2 would expand the daily bag on them for largemouth from five to 10 (none between 12 and 17 inches and only one over 17 inches); on smallmouth from 10 to 15 (only one over 14 inches); on channel catfish from five to 10; and on walleye from eight to 16 (only one over 22 inches).

A WDFW MAP SHOWS 146 LAKES THAT WOULD BE AFFECTED UNDER OPTION A. (WDFW)

For Option B, the list of lakes was whittled to 77 after subtracting out those that didn’t have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, or public access, but still said to have salmon spawning in their headwaters.

Option B1 would eliminate limits on all 77, while B2 would expand the limits as described in A2.

And for Option C, the list was narrowed down to 14 lakes which adult Chinook and their fry swim through, have bass, walleye and/or channel catfish, and have public access.

Those waters include popular bass lakes such as Washington, Union, Sammamish, Osoyoos, Vancouver, Ohop and Kapowsin, smaller ones such as Cottage, and overlooked lakes such as Scanewa, Cushman, Mayfield and Wynoochee.

Under C1, they would see limits eliminated, while C2 would follow A2 and B2.

In their briefing packets, WDFW staffers only recommend Option B, leaving it up to commissioners whether to choose the wholesale elimination of all limits on the 77 lakes or expanded bags instead.

That alternative would mesh with the legislature’s intent to protect “salmon smolts.” The lakes and their feeder streams largely represent habitat for coho, which are important to orca diets in the inland sea in late summer.

But it’s also questionable how productive some of those waters are compared to larger river systems and hatcheries, as well as how recently salmon have actually used them.

Some like Lakes Sammamish, Union and Washington are a critical conduit between the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, which annually raises millions of Chinook and coho fry, and the saltwater.

While that King County watershed’s Chinook were not federally identified as important for southern residents, Scanewa and the Cowlitz River, where springers are being reintroduced in the upper end, has been.

At any rate, the rule change would primarily affect bass, as channel cats are limited to few lakes and on the Westside they are typically too cold for reproduction, and fortunately few walleye have been illegally brought over the Cascade crest.

Even as largemouth and smallmouth aren’t as coveted on the table in Northwest and also have consumption advisories out for women and children due to mercury, the episode has served as a warning for bass anglers that they “need to have a voice in Olympia,” in the words of Joel Nania of the Inland Northwest Bass Club.

He joined Martin and several others at the state capital in mid-October to talk to the commission about limits.

BASS CLUB PRESIDENT PHIL MARTIN SPEAKS TO THE WASHINGTON FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION IN OCTOBER. (TVW)

During written public comment, there were 500 comments in favor of liberalized limits, 190 against.

SHB 1579 follows on previous prodding by federal fishery overseers to do more in the Columbia system to protect outmigrating smolts preyed on by the three spinyrayed species. WDFW several years ago waived daily and size limits on the big river and its tribs.

The primary factors impacting reduced Chinook and salmon abundance are massive, long-term, all-encompassing habitat destruction from the tops of our mountains to the depths of Puget Sound, and declining ocean productivity.

Whether the commission chooses to liberalize limits on 14, 77 or 146 lakes, it has a tough needle to thread between lawmakers, pro-orca public sentiment and a portion of its constituents.

WDFW Commission Denies Petition To Restrict Popular Skykomish Fisheries

A utility district’s petition to restrict bait fishing for half the year and delay the opening of the summer Chinook and steelhead season on Washington’s Skykomish was rebuffed by the Fish and Wildlife Commission late last week.

That left local anglers like Mark Spada breathing a sigh of relief for the moment.

“The sportfishing community worked very hard to educate the commission to the importance of this last-of-its-kind fishing opportunity for the North Sound,” said the president of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club. “Thankfully they listened, and voted to deny this uninformed petition by the PUD.”

KRISTIN BISHOP SHOWS OFF A NICE SKYKOMISH SUMMER CHINOOK CAUGHT IN JUNE 2017. A UTILITY DISTRICT’S REQUEST TO RESTRICT GEAR AND SEASON TIMING ON THE RIVER WOULD “SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT” ITS FISHERIES FOR HATCHERY KINGS AND STEELHEAD. (THEFISHERE.COM)

But the citizen panel did ask WDFW to consider the request during the upcoming North of Falcon salmon-season-setting process, where fishing rules for 2020-21 will be determined through preseason forecasting and consultations with tribal comanagers before approval by federal overseers.

The petition came from the Snohomish County Public Utility District, which is concerned about wild steelhead recovery in the watershed, where it operates a dam it has to mitigate for.

Speaking for the utility, fisheries biologist Larry Lowe asked the state agency to enact selective gear regulations from July 15 through January 31 and push the summer opener back two to three weeks to June 15.

Lowe said that despite enhancement projects on the Skykomish and its tributary the Sultan, where PUD’s dam, hydropower facilities and reservoir are, native winter-run returns have declined to “an alarmingly low level,” with just 178 and 55 back to the mainstems of both rivers, respectively, this year.

And he said that the fishery for hatchery kings and summer-runs is impacting pre- and postspawn wild winters, as well as outmigrating smolts.

“Wild salmon and steelhead face many complex and costly challenges on the road to recovery. The requested rule changes are neither complex nor costly and will continue to provide ample fishing opportunity for recreational anglers as well as provide the resource protections needed for species recovery,” Lowe wrote.

But WDFW’s regional fisheries manager Edward Eleazer says the fishery comes in well below allowable impacts, and he points to greater threats to the steelhead stock than angling.

“Major pressures for steelhead are harbor seals, habitat degradation and climate change,” he told the commission during its Nov. 15 conference call.

The pinnipeds have been identified as eating large numbers of outmigrating salmonids in Puget Sound.

PUD’s Diversion and Culmback Dams have blocked all fish passage to most of the Sultan for decades, and much of the Sultan and Skykomish watersheds outside of three wilderness areas have been heavily logged, dumping sediment into the rivers. In the valley, dikes armor banks to protect the BNSF rail line, farms and towns.

Eleazer pointed out to commissioners that the Skykomish fishery is operated under a comanager agreement, and is authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to have a maximum impact of 4.2 percent on wild winter steelhead.

“Recent estimates by NOAA say we’re more like 1.6 percent, so the impacts on steelhead are negligible and not severe like the petitioner is claiming,” Eleazer said.

He said the proposed rule changes would “significantly affect hatchery Chinook and hatchery steelhead fishing.”

It’s fair to say that the Skykomish is where anglers are digging in their heels.

“The fact that the smolt mortality and wild fish encounters were below the allowable minimums as outlined by the NOAA permit for this fishery gave PUD no legitimate case for the rule change they were petitioning for,” argues Spada.

In this era of decreased hatchery releases and salmon and steelhead fishing opportunities, the Sky is the last bastion of consumptive angling in Puget Sound. It’s the only river north of the Cowlitz where Chinook and steelhead can be kept in June and July.

It’s the river that WDFW prioritized in the Chambers Creek early winter steelhead settlement with the Wild Fish Conservancy, and it’s the one they’ve come up with a plan for saving the summer steelhead fishery out of another WFC lawsuit.

Just under 500 Chinook and 1,573 steelhead were caught on the Sky during 2017’s summer fishery, according to WDFW’s 2017 sport catch report, the most recent available, along with 1,863 winter steelhead during the fall-winter season.

While eggs and sand shrimp are popular and productive offerings for summer kings, coho, chums and both summer and winter steelhead, under selective gear rules bait and scents are prohibited. Anglers are also limited to lures with single barbless hooks (except plugs), and required to use knotless nets.

Eleazer acknowledged that PUD is an important stakeholder in fishery issues in the Skykomish watershed, and the county agency does a lot of steelhead and salmon habitat and recovery work.

“One of the reasons why they’re so alarmed, and our staff is alarmed as well, is because of the extreme drought and climate conditions that we saw in 2015,” he said. “And so the salmon and steelhead returning this year, their parents came into the system during 2015 and it wasn’t very hospitable for them to survive. Very low numbers are coming back this year because of the climate change environmental situation, so they’re kind of waving the red flag.”

That year was when the effects of The Blob — the giant pool of overly warm water in the North Pacific — really hit Northwest rivers hard, with little winter snowpack and hot air temperatures leading to an early meltout and record low flows through summer.

I chronicled those impacts in a photographic survey of the Skykomish that summer, when on July 18 the river was flowing at a mere 425 cubic feet per second, 2,700 cfs below average and twice as low as the old record minimum for the date, set back in 1940 — extraordinary numbers.

PANORAMA MODE CAPTURES THE SKYKOMISH RIVER AT PROCTOR CREEK DURING JULY 2015’S RECORD LOW FLOWS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Over on dewatered Olympic Peninsula streams, WDFW biologists observed where wild winter steelhead redds had been dug up by raccoons to get at the eggs.

Unfortunately the snow drought was followed by major fall floods. The Skykomish saw crests of 70,000, 60,000, 95,000 and 80,000 cfs at Gold Bar in a six-week period, which didn’t do salmonids any favors either.

Eleazer said that it appears PUD is more focused on recent abundance trends, and it’s true, those don’t look good.

Where once there were enough winter steelhead to hold a coveted March-April catch-and-release season on the Sky, overall Snohomish-Skykomish Basin returns have dropped from 4,132 as recently as 1998 to 1,188 in 2014 to 372 in 2018.

He said that PUD was also “very upset” about this year’s May 25 start of the Skykomish fishery, seven days earlier in the past, a change that came about through WDFW’s rule simplification efforts which affected hundreds of flowing waters statewide and moved the traditional Sky opener from June 1 to the Saturday before Memorial Day.

In 2020, the Saturday before the holiday falls on May 23; in 2021, the 29th; in 2022, the 28th, etc.

According to Eleazer PUD didn’t submit comments on the late May opener, but Lowe’s petition states that as much as 43 percent of the Sultan’s wild winter redds are dug after the 25th of the month.

And Lowe says that outmigrating steelhead, coho and Chinook smolts “are vulnerable under a May 25 opener. This would not be the case with a mid-June opener.”

PUD’s crunching of 2011 WDFW creel data shows that king and steelhead catch rates spike from June 6 to 11, consistent with the early 2000s.

(PUD)

The mouth of the Sultan, where a popular put-in/take-out is located, also acts as a thermal refuge because the tributary dumps in water that’s cooler than the Sky, Lowe says.

Hatchery steelhead haven’t been released in the Sultan in more than a decade as WDFW moved away from off-station stocking, and the agency also scaled back the period that gold mining can occur between the site of the old Diversion Dam, at river mile 9.7 and which came down in 2017, and Culmback Dam to the month of August.

Before filing their petition, Lowe and utility managers took to print and the airwaves in early June rather than work with local anglers, and that didn’t sit well with Spada, and the whole thing still doesn’t.

“It continues to mystify me why the PUD thinks that they are in control of wild fish management on the Sky, and want to point fingers of blame at the recreational fisherman when they have made no attempt to be part of the solution, or work together with all interested parties for common sense management,” he says.

Eleazer told the commission that to his knowledge, PUD has not talked with the Tulalip Tribes, which comanage fisheries in the basin, and that conversations have been limited to the utility, his agency and the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Before voting to deny the petition, Fish and Wildlife Commission members debated whether to include specific direction to WDFW staff to consider the requests during North of Falcon.

Some, like Vice Chair Barbara Baker of Olympia and Kim Thorburn of Spokane wanted to, while others like angler advocate Dave Graybill of Leavenworth said it wasn’t necessary because it was already part of NOF.

Ultimately, an amendment to do so was included in the vote denying PUD’s petition.

NOF begins again in late winter, with multiple chances to comment on any proposals that come out of it.

Washington’s Rifle Deer Season Wrapping Up

Washington’s 2019 general rifle deer season is just about a wrap, with only hours worth of hunting time left in the state’s northeast corner for whitetails.

As hunters filtered out of Stevens and other counties up there this past Sunday, some encountered a game warden check station on Miles-Creston Road near the intersection with Highway 2, in northern Lincoln County.

WASHINGTON GAME WARDENS CHECK HUNTERS NEAR THE SMALL TOWN OF CRESTON WEST OF SPOKANE ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2019. (WDFW)

According to WDFW, fish and wildlife officers chatted with 179 hunters as well as anglers in 117 rigs, and sportsmen were bringing quite an array of game home.

“We checked 35 white-tailed bucks (mostly shot in Stevens County), nine turkeys, two cougars, seven grouse, and assorted fish (trout and kokanee) from Lake Roosevelt,” reported Capt. Dan Rahn in Spokane.

While the late modern firearms whitetail hunt ends half an hour after sunset today in Game Management Units 105 through 124, turkey, cougar and grouse seasons there run through the end of the year, while fishing is open year-round on the bulk of the Upper Columbia impoundment.

WDFW biologists in these parts also ran their usual last-Sunday-of-season check station in Deer Park, though you might read the results while keeping in mind how many days of hunting were still available as hunters passed through.

This year, with two days of season left, district bio Annemarie Prince in Colville says that 99 hunters with 26 bucks were tallied.

That’s an uptick from 2018 when the count was 96 with 16, but when hunters had one more day in hand, and less than 2017, when it was 124 with 43 and no time left on the clock.

“Overall, hunters seemed happy with the season and we had some really nice whitetails come through,” says Prince, who notched her tag. “Most hunters at least saw does and fawns even if they never found a buck to harvest.”

Back at that Highway 2 game check, WDFW reported that officers had to give out 22 warnings, “mostly for improperly notched tags, no evidence of species/sex, and transporting fish/wildlife without written statements.”

But at least one violation may get someone in hotter water.

“One cougar was checked that was harvested without a valid cougar tag. The cougar was seized, and charges will be referred to the prosecutor’s office,” Rahn reported.

Meanwhile, the late blacktail hunt in Western Washington closed Sunday evening.

Next up are late general archery and muzzleloaders opportunities that begin tomorrow and in following days and weeks.

So far this deer season, judging by pics and stories on Hunting-Washington.com and a similar Facebook page, a fair number of riflemen tagged out in November, including with some pretty nice bucks as well as great firsts.

Prince was gunshy about making a prediction for how final harvest stats will shape up in her district, and while it won’t be for months that we do see hard numbers, I’m going to go out on a bit of limb and forecast that this year’s statewide kill will end up above last season’s admittedly modest take.

(Amy, go ahead and start on our crow recipe now, should still be on the counter.)

It’s Public Comment Season In The P.N.W.: Sea Lions, Wolves, Grizzlies

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted Monday, Oct. 28, WDFW has announced that the public scoping period for future wolf management planning will extend through 5 p.m. Nov. 15.

As one public comment period closed last week, two others important to Northwest sportsmen will end soon as well.

Tuesday, Oct. 29 is when commenting wraps up on a proposal by the three Northwest states and several tribes to remove California and Steller sea lions in an expanded part of the Lower Columbia watershed, while this Friday afternoon is when the scoping period for postrecovery wolf management planning ends in Washington.

SEA LIONS GATHER INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE COWEEMAN RIVER AT KELSO, MOST LIKELY FOLLOWING THE 2016 RUN OF ESA-LISTED EULACHON, OR SMELT, UP THE COLUMBIA RIVER. (SKYLAR MASTERS)

Last Thursday saw the second comment period on plans to recover grizzly bears in the North Cascades wrap up following several well-attended meetings in the region.

Following passage of the Endangered Salmon Predation Prevention Act by Congress last winter, IDFG, ODFW, WDFW and the Nez Perce Tribe, Yakama Nation and other tribal partners in the Columbia Basin put in for a permit that would allow removals of sea lions in tributaries with listed salmon and steelhead runs, as well as in the Columbia from river mile 112, around Washougal, up to McNary Dam.

Currently, sea lions are only being taken out in the mainstem at Bonneville.

It’s not a ultimate cure-all for all the woes Chinook, coho, summer-runs and other stocks face — many other species chew on them and fish habitat has been radically altered — but already the ability to remove the marine mammals is showing results at Willamette Falls.

According to a Bill Monroe article in The Oregonian late last week, sea lion predation of winter steelhead and spring Chinook there has dropped by as much as 75 and 55 percent, respectively, since Oregon received a federal permit.

ODFW took out 33 last winter and spring, and that has greatly increased the odds that the ESA-listed steelhead stock will not go extinct, “probably to less than 10 percent,” according to the agency’s Dr. Shaun Clement, Monroe reported.

A SEA LION FLINGS A SALMONID AT WILLAMETTE FALLS. (ODFW)

To comment on the expanded program in the Columbia, go here by tomorrow.

As for Washington wolf management, 5 p.m. Nov. 1 is the deadline to register your thoughts as WDFW looks towards the next phase of the species’ recovery in the state.

There are two options, a scoping questionaire that asks for your age, sex, county of residence, whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban area, whether you identify as a hunter, livestock producer, outdoor recreationist or environmentalist, and a list to check off the topics most important to you in terms of wolf management.

That takes less than two minutes, but another option allows for more submitting more expansive thoughts.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS WHERE COMMENTS ON ITS PUBLIC SCOPING PERIOD ON FUTURE WASHINGTON WOLF MANAGEMENT WERE COMING FROM, AS OF OCT. 17, 2019. (WDFW)

When the Fish and Wildlife Commission met a week and a half ago, wolf managers updated them on how the scoping process was going through Oct. 17, and wolf hunting and wolf-livestock conflicts were the two most important topics among respondents, followed by wolf conservation and monitoring.

Translocation — moving nonproblem wolves from one part of the state to others — was the least important.

Rural residents and outdoor recreationists have been among those participating in the survey in the highest numbers.

Don’t believe your voice counts in public comment?

With WDFW proposing a blanket elimination of daily and size limits on bass, walleye and channel catfish in 146 lakes across Washington (most don’t have the latter two species, but the first are widespread), testimony heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their October meeting had the citizen panel pushing back and asking for a more refined proposal from fishery managers as the state agency tries to follow a legislative directive to provide more forage fish for orcas.

WDFW Says 2016 DOI Opinion On Skokomish Border ‘Factually And Legally Deficient’

Washington state salmon managers are appealing to the Department of the Interior to set aside a 2016 opinion that has kept sport anglers from fishing the lower Skokomish for plentiful Chinook and coho for four years.

Citing research by two outside historians drawing on multiple documents, maps and statements from the late 1800s and early 1900s dug out of the National Archives and elsewhere, WDFW says that a federal Solicitor General reached “an erroneous conclusion” that the boundaries of the Skokomish Reservation stretched all the way across the river to the other bank.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SOUTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILLED THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Oct. 3 letter from WDFW Director Kelly Susewind to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt says the opinion “was issued without
input by Washington State, and our subsequent analysis shows it is factually and legally deficient.”

And it requests that the matter be given immediate attention as the start of the 2020 North of Falcon salmon season negotiations is just a few months away.

“With this new information in hand, I am writing to request that Solicitor Opinion M-37034 be reversed, or at a minimum be withdrawn,” Susewind asks Bernhardt and DOI.

The Skokomish River is important because it sees one of Puget Sound’s larger returns of kings, reared at a state hatchery near Shelton, and is productive from the bank. In the starving orca era, terminal salmon fisheries will be increasingly important.

But with that opinion hanging over their heads, WDFW has had to close its seasons to keep state anglers out of legal limbo with the feds. Fishermen rallied in summer 2016 in protest. The 2017 run saw tens of thousands of Chinook in excess of broodstock needs.

HUNTER SHELTON SHOWS OFF A SKOKOMISH RIVER CHINOOK FROM THE LAST SEASON IT WAS OPEN TO SPORT ANGLERS, 2015. IT BIT EGGS UNDER A BOBBER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And so with negotiations with the Skokomish Tribe stalled and raising the issue with the myriad Western Washington tribes at North of Falcon a nonstarter, the agency is now looking for relief from DOI.

While respective of tribal sovereignty, treaty fishing rights and historical links to the Great Bend of Hood Canal, Susewind’s letter just as firmly makes the case that at no time was the entire width of the river part of the tribe’s reservation, nor was it ever ceded to the Skokomish by the federal government before statehood.

That argument is supported by General Land Office Survey plat maps from 1861, 1873 — which in particular paid close attention to the boundaries of the reservation, according to WDFW — 1874, 1885 and 1909, along with what Susewind calls “perhaps the most significant piece of evidence on this point,” an 1874 letter discovered in the National Archives.

It was written in May of that year by federal Indian Agent Edwin Eells, who is described by Susewind as being tasked with attending to the Skokomish Tribe’s “needs,” and sent three months after President Ulysses S. Grant established the borders of the reservation via executive order.

It states:

“The present reservation lies on the North side of the river extending from the mouth about 3 1/2 miles up the river.”

FEDERAL INDIAN AGENT EDWIN EELLS’ MAY 25, 1874 LETTER TO H.E.P. SMITH, COMMANDER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, ON THE LOCATION OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION’S SOUTHERN BORDER STATES IT IS THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (NATIONAL ARCHIVES)

According to Susewind, the correspondence from Eells to H.E.P. Smith, Commander of Indian Affairs in Washington DC, was “apparently never discovered or considered” by DOI’s Hilary C. Tompkins, who authored that 2016 opinion.

“The correspondence clears any ambiguity about whether the local federal Indian agents intended the Reservation to extend across the entire River to its south bank and encompass the River’s full width — they did not,” Susewind asserts.

As for her opinion, Tompkins argued that tribal fishers’ use of weirs “required use and control of the entire width of rivers and their beds.”

She wrote that the 1855 treaty with the tribe and Grant’s order essentially reserved the riverbed along the border of the reservation so that it did not pass to Washington at statehood under what is known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.

At statehood, navigable waters were conveyed to the states by the federal government, an act affirmed in a 1926 Supreme Court decision and essentially upheld in a 2001 ruling that there had to be clear and compelling reasons not to, both cited by Susewind. The Skokomish is considered navigable, in pioneer days to above the reservation’s western boundary.

Tompkins assessment was panned by Dr. Gail Thompson of Gail Thompson Research of Seattle, who stated Tompkins “conducted inadequate research and overlooked much information that would have led to a different conclusion.”

“I conclude that the anthropological and ethnohistoric data do not support the Solicitor’s Opinion that the riverbed adjacent to the reservation was included within its boundaries,” Thompson writes in a 77-page report entitled “Anthropological and Ethnohistoric Information Related to the Riverbed Adjacent to the
Skokomish River.”

“To the contrary,” Thompson continues, “government maps and documents consistently show that the southern boundary of the reservation was located along the north bank of the Skokomish River.”

MAPS FROM 1861, 1873 — LIKE THIS ONE — 1874, 1885 AND 1909 CITED BY A PAIR OF RESEARCHERS CONSISTENTLY SHOW THE SOUTHERN BORDER OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION TO BE THE NORTH BANK OF THE SKOKOMISH RIVER. (GENERAL LAND OFFICE)

Dr. Douglas Littlefield of Littlefield Historical Research in California also looked into the issue, and his 111-page report concludes:

“Based upon extensive historical research in multiple archival sources, governmental reports, and historical newspaper accounts, [my] report clearly demonstrates that federal Indian Agents in Washington Territory expressly did not intend to include the bed of the Skokomish River when they established the boundaries of the Skokomish Indian Reservation. Instead, contemporaneous understanding by Indian Agents as well as other historical observers was that the Reservation’s southern boundary lay along the low-water mark of the north bank of the Skokomish River. The historical evidence in support of this conclusion is substantial and includes U.S. General Land Office survey plats and field notes as well as extensive documentation from the files of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and published annual reports of that agency.”

His “Historical Report on the Skokomish River and the Southern Boundary of the Skokomish Indian Reservation” states the border was defined by federal officials in the Office of Indian Affairs and confirmed by Grant’s order.

Littlefield’s and Thompson’s services were procured through the state Attorney General’s Office.

How this all turns out will be very interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, the work that WDFW has put into challenging the 2016 DOI Solicitor General’s opinion is notable.

The depth of the research, the tone of Susewind’s letter and who else he cc’ed it to — the state’s Congressional delegation, numerous DOI officials, the Skokomish Tribe, the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and select Olympia lawmakers — lend it a confident air.

Word of it emerged publicly this morning during the Director’s Report to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

But the question is whether the feds have enough time to review these new facts and make a decision in time for this coming North of Falcon, or when.

ANGLERS CARRY SIGNS AT A 2016 RALLY TO REOPEN THE SKOKOMISH TO SPORT FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Rifle Hunter Numbers, Success Down At Okanogan, NE WA Game Checks

If you hunted Okanogan County or Northeast Washington this past weekend and got a deer, tip of the hat, as success rates for the rifle opener were just in the 12 to 16 percent range.

Game check stations in those parts of the state saw fewer hunters bring fewer animals through than last year, although in the case of the latter region, that may be due to whitetail does being off limits for youth and disabled general season hunters this season.

JACK BENSON COULD ONLY TAKE PICTURES OF THIS DOUGLAS COUNTY STUD ON THE OPENER, GIVEN ITS LOCATION ON PRIVATE LAND, BUT THE NEXT DAY, WHEN IT MOVED ONTO TO STATE GROUND, WAS ANOTHER STORY. HE TOOK THE MONSTER ON LAND HIS DAD HUNTED 20 YEARS AGO, AND THIS MAKES HIS THIRD BUCK IN THREE SEASONS. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

“Overall, the check station was slow,” reported Annemarie Prince, WDFW district wildlife biologist in Colville. “Weather was good, but we did see very few vehicles with youth hunters. Not sure if that is related to our regulation change, but I would guess that played a role. Most hunters saw deer, but most were does and fawns.”

She said that 30 hunters came through the Chewelah station with five bucks, including four whitetails and one mule deer, for a 16.66 percent success rate.

Further down Highway 395, 92 hunters stopped at the Deer Park station with 12 bucks, including eight whitetails and four muleys, for a 13 percent success rate.

By comparison, last year’s results, when does were legal for youth and disabled hunters, were:

Chewelah: 49 hunters with 10 deer (eight whitetails, including two bucks and six antlerless, and two mule deer) for a 20 percent success rate.

Deer Park: 127 hunters with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 23 bucks and 12 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 30 percent success rate.

And in 2017, it was 174 hunters at Deer Park with 38 deer (35 whitetails, including 21 buck and 14 antlerless, and three mule deer) for a 21.8 percent success rate. A Chewelah station wasn’t run that year.

The idea behind the full ban on general season antlerless whitetail harvest is to try and rebuild numbers in Washington’s most productive deer woods.

Affected units include Sherman (GMU 101), Kellyhill (105), Douglas (108), Aladdin (111), Selkirk (113), 49 Degrees North (117) and Huckleberry (121).

Seniors haven’t been able to take one there since the 2016 season.

CHASE GUNNELL ENJOYED A SUCCESSFUL RIFLE OPENER, BAGGING THIS WHITETAIL BUCK ON PUBLIC LAND IN OKANOGAN COUNTY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

The only other check station in the rest of the state is at the Red Barn in Winthrop, and that’s where WDFW district wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin and his crew were set up.

“We checked 67 hunters with eight deer, plus two bears and a cougar,” he reported, a 11.9 percent success rate on deer. “These numbers suggest both participation and success are down somewhat from last year, 82 hunters with 13 deer,” a 15.9 percent success rate.

In 2017 the score was 83 with seven, an 8.4 percent success rate.

The caveat is that not all hunters stop by the check stations, which are voluntary and only operated on the weekends. The successful rifleman in our camp of five wasn’t leaving until Monday.

He got his buck first thing Saturday morning. That day was mostly overcast and while Sunday morning did see rain and snow, things are looking decidedly stormier in the coming days.

“The forecast is for colder and wetter weather with significant high country snow for the second half of the season, so prospects may improve if conditions get deer moving toward winter range,” Fitkin says.

TALK ABOUT GETTING IT DONE! JAMES POTH, 11, TAGGED OUT ON THE RIFLE OPENER WITH THIS NICE MULE DEER, THEN THE NEXT MORNING FILLED HIS SECOND DEER TAG WITH A DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

That’s a mighty big if, of course, but keep in mind that mule deer season here (and everywhere else in Washington) does run through Tuesday, October 22.

“My guess is the last two days of the season next week will be the best opportunity given the weather forecast and the fact that there is usually significantly less pressure on those two days,” Fitkin stated.

JODY POTH BAGGED HER FIRST DEER EVER, THIS MULEY DOE. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Back in Northeast Washington, whitetail season goes a bit longer, through Friday, Oct. 25, then picks up again in November for the rut hunt.

“My tip for most hunters is, ‘Get out of the truck,'” says Prince, the District 1 biologist.

Whitetail season on the Palouse, Blue Mountains and Northcentral Washington runs through the 22nd.

FRESH OFF FILLING HIS OREGON DEER TAG WITH A TALL-TINED MULEY, CHAD ZOLLER NOTCHED HIS WASHINGTON ONE WITH THIS SOUTHEAST WHITETAIL. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

On the Westside, blacktails are open through Halloween, with numerous units also open for a late hunt in mid-November.

JACK ALLEN MADE IT AN EVEN HALF DOZEN DEER SINCE TAKING HIS FIRST AT 11 YEARS OLD. THE 17-YEAR-OLD BAGGED THIS SNOQUALMIE VALLEY BLACKTAIL WITH A SHOTGUN IN A FIREARMS-RESTRICTED AREA ON COLUMBUS DAY. (HUNTING PHOTO CONTEST)

Got a pic or story to share about the opener? Email me at awalgamott@media-inc.com!

Money Minnow Season Wraps Up With Cathlamet, New Angler On Top

The 2019 pikeminnow sport reward season wrapped up early last week and it featured a pair of surprises.

Not only did Cathlamet retain its title of top station, but for the first time in a decade there’s a new top-earning angler, according to program manager Eric Winther.

AN ANGLER BELOW BONNEVILLE DAM UNHOOKS A NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

He called it perhaps a “‘changing of the guard’ in the pikeminnow world,’ in which anglers are paid to remove these native fish that prey on young salmon and smolt in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Until last year, Cathlamet had never had highest haul since the program’s inception in 1991, according to Winther, but it followed up 2018’s 25,135 with an even larger tally, 27,317 qualifying pikeminnow.

That equates to just over 18.5 percent of all the fish brought in during the May 1-Sept. 30 season for rewards from $5 to $8, with specially tagged ones worth $500.

“The Dalles station didn’t really happen for the second straight year and the Mid-Columbia stations around the Tri-Cities had down years as well,” noted Winther.

Second best location was Boyer Park on the Snake with 20,989, followed by Washougal with 11,785.

Catch per angler was strongest at Ridgefield, Kalama and Beacon Rock, with an average of 10.3, 10.2 and 10.0 pikeminnow apiece through the season for participating fishermen.

“We have a new top angler for the first time since 2009,” Winther added.

That fisherman earned $50,647 for bringing in 6,187 pikeminnow, including three with tags.

The second-place angler took in $38,365 for their 4,490 and five tags.

Names of participants aren’t divulged.

This year’s catch of 146,082 was the lowest back to 2009, and well below the longterm average of roughly 172,000.

“On a positive side, we did once again hit our exploitation target, 10 to 20 percent, for the 22nd consecutive year, which is the truest gauge of program success,” Winther noted.

Meeting that goal is believed to reduce predation on young Chinook, coho, steelhead and other salmonids by up to 40 percent.

Funding comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates a number of dams on the Columbia system, and which  made pikeminnow much more effective at snacking on outmigrating smolts.

Walleye, Caspian terns and other piscovores also prey on the little fish, while California and Steller sea lions chow down on returning adults.

Federal overseers are now taking public comment on a proposal by state and tribal managers to expand the area where pinnipeds can be removed and could lead to as many as 416 being taken out a year to help ESA-listed fish populations. It would allow lethal removals from around Washougal upstream to McNary Dam as well as salmon-bearing tribs below there.

Anglers participating in the pikeminnow program are reminded they have to submit their vouchers by Nov. 15 to receive payment.

Rough Days At Sea Series I: High Pressure At The High Spot

A run out to the South Coast halibut grounds in an open-bow boat nearly turns disastrous for Oregon anglers when a storm hits.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories from Coos Bay-area angler Jim Pex.

By Jim Pex

Going out on the ocean in a small boat is not much different than hiking into a wilderness area. You never know what you might see or what unique experiences await you. Like the wilderness, one does not go to sea unprepared, nor does one venture forth without a guide or some personal experience. When things go wrong and you’re not ready for them, it can be lonely out there, putting your life and those with you in danger. Ancient mariners were well aware of the dangers and risked their lives based on their personal skills.

The ocean is mysterious in that conditions change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment. There is a thrill in going out there and dealing with the unknowns that come your way. But beware, your primary resource, the weatherman, may not be your friend.

THE WEATHER CAN TURN FAST ON THE OREGON COAST, HITTING HARDER AND WITH MORE INTENSITY THAN FORECASTERS SOMETIMES PREDICT. (JIM PEX)

About 10 years back, I had a friend named Jim who was running a guide service on the ocean. It usually was for rockfish and he only ran out a few miles from the safety of the bar and the inner bay. He had a 22-foot aluminum boat with an open bow that was not built for rough ocean conditions, but on a good day was certainly adequate. The boat had a large motor as the main and a smaller one for trolling or just backup.

My friend had taken the Coast Guard classes and had what we call a six-pack license to take up to six people fishing. Getting the license requires passing an exam, so the expectation is that the licensed captain knows what he or she is doing. Jim had been out on the pond on a number of occasions, so we thought he was capable. In talking to him, you could tell he was confident of his skills out there.

JIM GOT A CALL FROM A CLIENT who wanted to catch a halibut. The best place to do so in our area is called the Bandon High Spot. This is an underwater plateau located between Bandon and Port Orford and about 15 miles west from shore. The bottom rises from 700 to 800 feet deep to 400 to 500 feet deep. It is a hangout for large halibut and a great spot to fish, if you can get there.

The downside is that it is distant from any support such as the Coast Guard or a safe harbor. Unlike on land, there are no roads, no tow trucks and no immediate help if things go wrong at sea. If you capsize out there, it is unlikely anyone is going to find you until much later.

The front of the high spot from the Coos Bay bar is south, 27 miles distant. It is 15 miles south of Bandon and about the same distance from Port Orford. Bandon is not much of a refuge if things go wrong since it is difficult to get across the bar most of the time. Port Orford is OK but there is no trailer boat launch; you need to have your boat lifted on and off the water with a large crane, provided you have the appropriate straps.

THE BANDON HIGH SPOT CAN BE REACHED FROM COOS BAY, BANDON AND PORT ORFORD, TWO OF WHICH ARE SUBJECT TO SUMMER AFTERNOON NORTHWESTERLIES. (NOAA)

CHECKING THE WEATHER, IT LOOKED TO BE sunny with a light wind out of the north when Jim started for the Bandon High Spot. Waves were forecast to be 3 to 4 feet, not a bad day to go fishing. Actually, it was about as good as it ever gets out there. Another friend named Leonard was also on board for this trip as a deckhand. The rest of this story is based on what Leonard told me weeks later.

Jim left the Charleston harbor at daylight and made the 27-mile run downwind to the High Spot. Since he was running with the wind and waves, the trip was comfortable and made at good speed. They arrived about an hour and a half later and there were a few other boats around. It is good to have a little company when you are this far from home.

Fishing 500 feet down with a hand-crank reel is a test of one’s endurance. To get to the bottom requires 2 pounds of weight off the end of a stiff rod. Herring is usually the bait of choice. Leonard said fishing was slow that day but they managed to get their limit of three halibut over several hours.

By that time the other boats were gone. As Jim, Leonard and their client had fished, the wind had increased and the waves doubled in size. In nautical slang, “The sheep was on the water” by the time they wanted to leave. This means there were whitecaps on the waves from the wind. In this case, the wind was straight out of the north, the waves from the northwest. Getting back to Charleston meant heading north into the seas and wind.

Jim finally shipped the rods and tackle and told the others to sit tight for the trip back home. He said it looked like it might be lumpy and slow; four to five hours of running was a possibility. He turned the boat into the seas, pushed the throttle but could make very little headway at displacement speed without shipping water over the bow. Keep in mind this boat had an open bow that was very slow to drain when taking water. It seems they never make the bow scuppers large enough in these boats; I think they were designed for rain, not waves.

A STORM LASHES THE PACIFIC OFF THE CAPE ARAGO LIGHTHOUSE NEAR CHARLESTON. (JIM PEX)

GETTING ON PLANE DID NOT SEEM LIKE A possibility and a long trip home was becoming more realistic. However, there is a technique in which one can put the power to the throttle and get up on top of the waves and basically run from wave top to wave top, but the conditions must be just right. Jim knew this and decided to give it more gas.

He hit the throttle and got on top of the first wave – and immediately launched the boat into the air like a water skier flying off a jump. The boat came down hard, knocking the other two to the floor. Undaunted, he kept on and plowed the center of the next wave instead of going over it. That wave came over the bow and filled the open bow with water, making the boat front heavy.

Jim apparently panicked and pushed the throttle harder and took another wave head on. This wave was higher than the windshield and passed over the heavy bow. It struck the windshield with such force that it knocked the glass out of the frames. Then as the green water passed through, water and windshield took out all of his dash electronics. Finally, as the moving wall of water passed along the boat, it struck the three people on board. Jim was hit first, by the glass and water, and was momentarily dazed. He had a hold of the steering wheel but the other two were less prepared and were carried by the water. The client nearly went over the side but managed to grasp a seat back with one hand while balancing on the gunnel. He hung on well enough to get back in the boat. Leonard was carried by the wave to the rear engines and did a face plant into the main motor. He was momentarily knocked senseless and the engine was all that kept him in the boat. He said he probably had “130” imprinted on his forehead from the emblem on the motor. All three were now soaked and frightened. None had experienced anything like this.

Jim backed off on the throttle as the wave passed through. Now they were at idle with a load of water sloshing back and forth inside the boat. Everything was floating and other waves were lapping at the sides as they tried to regroup. On the boat, the distance between the waves and the top of the boat sides is called the freeboard. Freeboard went from a couple feet to just inches with all that water on board. Fortunately, a few buckets were floating around and so they started to bail. The boat was now sideways to the oncoming waves and rocking violently as the crew gathered themselves. The vessel did have a bilge pump, but this was way beyond what the small unit could handle.

Since there were no longer any other boats in the vicinity, Jim quickly grabbed the VHF mic and tried to hail the Coast Guard, shouting “Mayday, mayday!” But there was no response as the radio was dead and the antenna was gone. Their cell phones were also wet, and out of range anyway.

Using buckets, the client and Leonard bailed water as Jim turned the boat south for a slight reprieve from the rising seas. They were alone, sea conditions were worsening, they had no radio to obtain help and their navigation instruments were dead also. There was not so much as a hand-held compass on board for guidance. If they took on any more water, they could capsize. And with land at least 15 miles away, no one would consider them missing for several hours. A life jacket was of little value when hypothermia in these cold waters was the Devil. Imminent death by drowning was racing through their minds. Was this it? Were they going to die? In this moment of terror, there was an upside: the engine was still running, and they were still afloat.

THE SIGHT OF THE ROCKY ISLANDS OFF PORT ORFORD AND THE AUTHOR’S BOAT FISHING THE REEF NEARBY WERE GODSENDS THAT SAFETY WAS NEAR FOR THE MEN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, THOUGH, THE FOG was beginning to set in up north, so the decision was made to run for Port Orford. They could see Humbug Mountain and Orford Rocks to the east and knew Port Orford was over there somewhere. Jim had never been there from the seaward side, so he pointed the boat in that direction, thus making some headway in the wind while the waves lapped at the boat’s port side. At least they were underway despite not knowing for sure where they were going or if conditions might change before they got there.

As Jim steered, the other two continued to bail water. They were all cold, wet and fearful as the seas continued to whitecap. Yet their situation slowly improved as they continued to bail water. The trip in seemed impossibly slow.

When they got closer to shore, the sea conditions improved, and they recognized what they though must be Orford Rocks and knew the port was somewhere around there. Everyone got excited when they spotted a boat fishing the reef near the rocks. They approached while making the emergency signal, raising both hands above their head and crossing them back and forth. I was in that boat fishing the reef. I saw the signal and recognized their boat.

“This is weird,” I thought. “Where did they come from?”

I hadn’t seen their rig at the dock when we’d launched.

Jim came close enough to me that I could shout directions for getting to Port Orford. I also made eye contact with Leonard. I would bet that if he thought there was any way he could have gotten off that boat and onto mine, he would have jumped. I did not know the client but he looked like he had literally escaped death. His clothes were soaked and disheveled, his hat was gone and his expression was grim.

Jim and his crew made it to the port. It was what we seafarers call a “kiss the dock moment.” They had to tie up until they could reach Jim’s wife, who retrieved the truck and trailer in Charleston and brought it the 50 miles down  to Port Orford.

Again, the port doesn’t have a regular boat launch. Vessels have to be lifted in and out with a crane. By the time Jim’s wife arrived, it was dark and someone lent them some straps to get their boat out of the water.

For all the effort and terrifying moments at sea, they were no longer in possession of the halibut, as the ice chest with the fish had gone overboard when the wave had passed through the boat.

PORT ORFORD IS THE ONE HARBOR ON THE OREGON COAST WHERE BOATS HAVE TO BE LIFTED IN AND OUT OF THE WATER. WHEN THE CREW ARRIVED THERE, IT WAS A “KISS THE DOCK MOMENT,” THE AUTHOR WRITES. THEY’D LOST THEIR HALIBUT, WERE SOAKED AND SHIVERING, BUT THE SKIPPER HAD BROUGHT THEM IN ALIVE. (RAY GILDEN, PFMC)

THE OCEAN IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO FISH on a good day. But conditions can change in a hurry. It is up to the captain to recognize the changes and respond based on the kind of boat and his boating skills. Despite the conditions, Jim was successful in getting himself, his crew and his boat to safety. He eventually got his boat fixed and had enough wisdom to never go back to the Bandon High Spot again with it.

One thing is for certain: If you survive these kinds of wilderness experiences, it makes you a whole bunch smarter. The upside from the events of this trip was that it caused the rest of us to put together ditch bags that included portable communications, compass, GPS and flares. You never wish for a day like Jim had, but if it comes someday, we hope to be better prepared.

Then, one day the ocean turned on me, as it can happen with very little notice. That’s another story to be told. NS

Editor’s note: Jim Pex is an avid angler based out of Coos Bay and enjoys fishing for albacore, salmon and rockfish. He is retired and was previously CEO of International Forensic Experts LLC and a lieutenant with the Oregon State Police at its crime laboratory. Pex is the author of CSI: Moments from a Career in Forensic Science, available through Amazon.

Northwest Fishing Derbies Contracting, Expanding With Times

As organizers of a Thanksgiving-week-long steelhead derby are cancelling their event, fishing for different species is being added to a salmon series.

Signs of the times?

“We do think the inconsistency of the fish counts has had an impact on that,” Lewis Clark Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director Kristin Kemak reportedly said about a recent decision to call off the Snake Clearwater Steelhead Derby, apparently for good.

DURING MUCH BETTER TIMES FOR BIG B-RUN STEELHEAD, INLAND NORTHWEST ANGLERS FLOCKED TO LEWISTON TO FISH IN THE THANKSGIVING-WEEK-LONG DERBY. (BRIAN LULL)

At one time, the event was billed as the “nation’s largest steelhead derby” and it attracted anglers from wide and far to catch B-runs that pushed towards the 20-pound mark.

“It was once a major fundraiser. Now the efforts we put in to host the event outweigh the financial benefit of doing so,” Kemak also said, according to Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune who broke the news.

TABLES AWAIT PARTICIPANTS IN 2013’S SNAKE CLEARWATER STEELHEAD DERBY, WHEN IT WAS SPONSORED BY A LEWISTON CHEVROLET DEALER. (BRIAN LULL)

Recent years have been tough on the event due to poor returns of steelhead up the Snake. That’s led managers to institute bag limit reductions, closures, reopeners, and 28-inch maximums to protect B-runs, typically larger than A-runs, which only spend a year in the salt.

This season there’s a blanket closure on all fishing for steelhead — even catch-and-release — on the Clearwater and Washington and Idaho’s Snake up to the Couse Creek boat launch in Hells Canyon. The B return is forecast to come in at just 4,500, including 1,700 unclipped fish, and is the lowest on record back through at least 1984, with less returning than hatchery broodstock goals and “no surplus to provide a fishery,” per IDFG.

Above Couse Creek the limit is one hatchery fish a day, 28 inches or less, with anglers required to stop after retaining it or a fall Chinook.

BRENDA BONFIELD OF CUSTOMWELD SPEAKS DURING 2013’S DERBY CEREMONIES. A POSTER BEHIND HER DESCRIBES THE DERBY AS THE “NATION’S LARGEST” FOR STEELHEAD. (BRIAN LULL)

The chamber of commerce instead plans to hold an outdoor cookoff on Saturday, Nov. 16, according to Barker.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Salmon Derby Series announced some “big news” yesterday, including a substantial expansion into the Beaver State.

We’re hitting the refresh button on 2020 series and it will be renamed the ‘Northwest Fishing Derby Series’ that will likely include a spring-time lingcod derby in Oregon and a kokanee-trout derby on Lake Chelan, plus a couple more additions,” Mark Yuasa of the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association wrote in his monthly newsletter.

Next year’s schedule already lists a pair of late March lingcod and rockfish derbies out of Charleston and Brookings, as well as the recently rejuvenated Slam’n Salmon Derby in the latter port.

The dozen and a half or so events in the series are typically run by local clubs, but entry into any one automatically puts your name in the hat for the derby series’ grand prize, a brand-new boat, with Yuasa announcing that 2020’s will be a KingFisher 2025 Hardtop.

The winner is traditionally drawn at the late September Everett Coho Derby and this year’s $75,000 boat-trailer-electronics package was won by Trevor Everitt.

The series, of which Northwest Sportsman is a sponsor, has also been victim to uncertain runs in recent years, with local sponsors having to call off the Edmonds and Everett events due to coho closures, and organizers of the Brewster derby unsure they could hold theirs — until nearly the last minute in the case of this year.

For those local fishing clubs, it hurts to lose key fundraisers.

With low fall Chinook runs expected on the Oregon Coast, the U Da Man Fishing Tournament decided to cancel their October salmon derby on Yaquina Bay back in June instead of pressure the run, even as doing so would “severely” deplete the organization’s funds to do other fish-friendly projects.

UDM still plans to raffle off a drift boat to try and raise money for those.

Undoubtedly as salmon and steelhead runs come out of the current downcycle, derbies will expand and new ones will come online, but for the moment, some are falling by the wayside while others are looking to embrace other species.