Category Archives: Editor’s Blog

How Washington Budget Affects WDFW, You (Hint: No Rec Fee Hike)

UPDATED 3:50 P.M., JUNE 30, 2017 WITH COMMENTS FROM SEN. KIRK PEARSON

A budget that Washington lawmakers are racing to approve before midnight’s deadline includes money from the General Fund for WDFW instead of the agency’s requested recreational license  increase.

Though half of what it had hoped to raise through higher fishing and hunting fees, the $10.1 million bump in an overall budget of $437 million is still being termed a “significant” amount considering the legislature’s major focus on education this year and other economic challenges.

“While this year’s budget doesn’t include much new program funding, we received a significant amount of new general fund which will help address the agency’s budget shortfall,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in an all-staff late-morning email.

Raquel Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, called it “a really good Band-Aid and will help us avoid painful reductions.”

PINK SALMON ANGLERS FISH UNDER CLEARING SKIES AT WHIDBEY ISLAND’S KEYSTONE SPIT IN JULY 2015. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

But it’s also a one-time fix that means WDFW will have to ask for another General Fund hit again in two years.

“The agency will be working over the coming months to identify smart reductions that avoid harsh impacts to our customers. We will also be working with legislators to consider some alternative long-term funding solutions for the agency,” Crosier added.

That would suggest sportsmen are off the hook for more than just two years for covering the budgetary shortfalls and enhanced fishing and hunting opportunities WDFW had been angling for with its $20-plus million Washington’s Wild Future package the past two years.

While it had been supported in proposed budgets from House Democrats and Governor Inslee, there was no interest in a fee hike from Senate Republicans, who favored dipping into the General Fund instead, and that appears to be what will pass.

The last fee increase was in 2011, which itself was the first in a decade.

That $10.1 million General Fund appropriation does come with a caveat — “a management and organizational review.”

Senators Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) and John Braun (R-Centralia) have not been happy with WDFW and what they’ve been hearing about it from hunters and anglers.

“When WDFW proposed to increase hunting and fishing license fees to cover their fiscal problems early this year, we heard loud and clear from sportsmen that these increases were not to be bargained with. Instead, we are backfilling $11 million into the agency to maintain hunting and fishing opportunities while we begin addressing the problems at WDFW,” Pearson said. “Clearly, there are both fiscal and management problems that need to be addressed. Now we can better account of how their dollars are spent and bring a level of accountability to the agency that hasn’t been in place for years.”

That review comes with $325,000 to perform the audit.

“This is a big victory for those of us who want to see more hunting and fishing opportunities and a better-run department,” added Pearson. “We need to get WDFW back up and running in structurally sound way. This budget gets us back on that path.”

Meanwhile, Inslee is urging lawmakers to get him the budget as soon as possible to avoid a partial government shutdown that would also close all but one fishery in the state, shut down boat ramps and leave wildlife areas unstaffed.

In his message to staff, Unsworth said the bill should pass and get to the governor in time to head that off, as well as cancel the layoff notices most of his staff received.

On separate late-developing fronts in Olympia, a bill authorizing a fee increase for commercial fisherman is zipping through the Senate as I write and is expected to bring in $1.26 million.

Lawmakers have also pushed through a two-year extension of the Columbia River endorsement that otherwise would have expired tonight.

That helps preserve $3 million in funding to hold salmon and steelhead fisheries in the watershed that otherwise would not be able to occur because of monitoring requirements in federal permits due to ESA stocks.

And a bill that raises $1 million to fight aquatic invasive species passed both chambers in the past 24 hours.

Back to WDFW’s budget, it includes nearly $1 million for wolf management, including depredation prevention efforts and a consultant who is assisting the wolf advisory group.

It maintains funding regional fisheries enhancement groups with a $900,000 allocation, and provides $167,000 for a pilot project to keep Colockum elk away from I-90 and elsewhere in eastern Kittitas County.

It also authorizes spending $530,000 from the new steelhead plate for work on that species, $448,000 for studying ocean acidification, and $200,000 for operating the Mayr Brothers Hatchery in Grays Harbor County.

Besides not funding the Wild Future initiative, the budget leaves out money for increased enforcement of wildlife trafficking.

It also cuts $341,000 for surveying wildlife and $1 million from payment in lieu of taxes for wildlife areas it owns. The latter could have been worse — Inslee had proposed a $3 million hack.

And instead of $2.3 million for hydraulic project approvals, the legislature is appropriating $660,000.

Still to be determined is the state Capital Budget, which funds upkeep and renovations at hatcheries, access sites, as well provides grants for acquiring new wildlife areas.

According to Unsworth, one is expected in the coming weeks.

No Washington Budget By July 1 Means Large-scale Fishery Closures

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that is being updated, including that state House and Senate lawmakers appear to have reached a budget deal “in principle,” per Governor Inslee.

All salmon, walleye and trout waters shut down.

Delayed July fishing and crabbing openers.

WDFW boat ramps on the Skykomish, Cowlitz and Skagit rivers closed.

This morning, Washington sportsmen are being warned they could see those and more starting starting this Saturday IF — note the big if — lawmakers don’t pass a state operating budget by June 30.

“We are optimistic that lawmakers will resolve their differences and avoid a shutdown, but it’s possible they will not succeed,” WDFW Director Jim Unsworth said in a press release. “We are providing this information to inform the public of the potential effects of a shutdown, so they can revise their plans if necessary during the busiest recreation season of the year.”

Similar situations in 2013 and 2015 were avoided with late deals on budgets, and UPDATE it may again be the case in 2017 — a “deal in principle” is being reported as of 9:53 a.m., though there are no actual details of what’s being proposed, only confidence that it would get to Governor Inslee’s desk on time to avoid a shutdown.

To get the latest on the state of negotiations, monitor #WaLeg on Twitter, as well as state capital reporters , @RachelAPOly and, among others.

A SKYKOMISH RIVER FISHERMAN PREPARES HIS DRIFT BOAT FOR LAUNCH AT SULTAN, ONE OF MANY STATE LAUNCHES THAT WOULD BE CLOSED IF LAWMAKERS CAN’T AGREE ON A WASHINGTON BUDGET BY JULY 1. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Legislators in the House and Senate have until Friday night to agree to a spending plan and get it to Governor Inslee to avoid the widespread consequences.

Everyone’s crossing their fingers Olympia politicians get the job done, and there are positive rumblings from the capital as I press publish on this blog.

But in the meanwhile the uncertainty is forcing WDFW to push its contingency plan for a state shutdown further into the open.

It’s held off doing so since late last week, because putting out those details comes with a risk — too much alarm could impact businesses in sportfishing-dependent places like Westport.

There, July 1 not only marks the salmon opener in the “Salmon Fishing Capital of the World,” with a larger Chinook quota, but coho are back on the menu this year after 2016’s closure for the stock.

But with DNR and Ecology posting warning notices on their websites last night, WDFW put out the word this morning.

A shutdown would leave just 70 of the agency’s 1,800 staffers on the job, too few to monitor and police fisheries, even every-day ones.

Asked last week which of his lakes and rivers would be affected, one Eastside fishery manager offered a blunt assessment.

“All of them.”

A Westside biologist told me the same.

“Everything is my understanding. So no salmon, no river fisheries, no lakes, nothing.”

The only exceptions, according to WDFW, would be Dungeness crabbing off the coast, because funding for it is not reliant on the legislature.

The shutdown would also leave no staff to write up potential emergency openers.

While about half of WDFW’s 83 hatcheries are required to stay open because they rear federally protected salmon and steelhead, the other 41 raising rainbows and nonlisted stocks might have to be gated.

“But we are exploring options to avoid closing any of them,” Unsworth said.

State wildlife areas would stay open, but restrooms would be closed.

WDFW would also stop processing hydraulic permit approvals, public disclosure requests and selling fishing and hunting licenses.

Its main and regional offices would be closed, and poaching reports would have to be dealt with by other agencies.

Again, this is NOT A DONE DEAL, but with negotiations coming down to the wire, it’s prudent to warn sportsmen about the possibilities.

We’ll be closely monitoring the situation and post any significant updates.

 

Last Hurrah? Pessimistic Angler Wants To Open Lake Washington Sockeye One Final Time

A Washington sockeye angler is calling on WDFW to open Lake Washington this summer for a last-hurrah season if more than 100,000 of the salmon pass through the Ballard Locks.

We’re already nearly one-fifth of the way there, with 19,139 counted as of yesterday and the usual run peaks still ahead of us.

But it would be a sharp change from past fisheries, which haven’t been held until managers were sure 350,000 were entering the system, and would require tribal comanagers to sign off on.

IMAGES FROM THE LAST LAKE WASHINGTON SOCKEYE FISHERY, IN 2006. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Frank Urabeck, a long time fisheries activist, terms it a “token, for old times’ sake” opportunity in an email to WDFW Director Jim Unsworth and a number of agency honchos late this afternoon.

“Looking at the Cedar River wild and hatchery production data I am convinced this is last chance we will have for run to be this good and an opportunity to show what it once was like. Public deserves something given the significant imbalance in cumulative harvest as a result of the tribal C&S fisheries since 2006,” Urabeck writes.

He worries the system’s sockeye population may be past a “tipping point” to ever recover and host an opener at that higher return level.

It certainly feels like this is a fishery from bygone days, or at least the dawn of the Twitter and Facebook age.

While the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Tribes have had limited annual ceremonial and subsistence sockeye fisheries with a total catch Urabeck estimates at 30,000 to 40,000, it hasn’t been since 2006 that salmon mania has descended on the big water just east of Seattle.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Since then Urabeck and the rest of us have been on the sidelines, carefully watching the locks counts in hopes there might be enough, but always turning away disappointed, despite the promise of the new Seattle Public Utilities hatchery on the Cedar River, capable of cranking out 34 million sockeye fry.

Unfortunately, as they rear in the lake for a year, many if not most smolts are being eaten by piscivorous fish and other predators.

And returning adults are increasingly dying from disease after they pass from the locks to the lake through the too-warm, relatively shallow ship canal — 40 percent of Cedar-bound sockeye in both 2014 and 2015, according to the Muckleshoot Tribe.

Despite record hatchery fry production in 2012, which should have yielded as many as 500,000 adults, according to Urabeck, instead we saw one of the most abysmal returns on record, just 12,000 to 15,000 back to the Cedar.

But at the same time, recent years’ returns, including this one, were at sea through The Blob and most likely were affected like 2015’s pinks and coho, so it’s possible runs could bounce back with improving ocean conditions and increased control of freshwater predator species.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Still, hopes for slapping some homegrown sockeye on Seattle barbecues have been fizzling for some time.

So with the future looking grim in his eyes, Urabeck is calling for a couple days of fishing some time in late July or early August, and foresees a harvest of 10,000.

“The proposed special fishery would not have any significant impact on sockeye reaching the Cedar River and the sockeye hatchery operated by the City of Seattle, which has failed to meet expectations. Remember, the Cedar River sockeye were introduced from the Baker River and are under no ESA constraint,” he writes to Unsworth.

If the state and tribes get on board and enough sockeye actually arrive — the official forecast calls for 77,292 back to the locks and it’s hard to say whether 2017’s good start means the run is early or big or both — it could also give local tackle stores a much-needed shot in the arm after two deflating summers.

The 18-day 2006 season produced $8.6 million in economic benefits and a catch of 59,000 sockeye, according to WDFW.

We’ll fold in comment from the agency as it arrives.

Roaming From Chrome: More Columbia Anglers Turn To Walleye

It’s not just AndyCoho roaming from chrome these days!

The most famous Northwest salmon and steelhead angler’s been dabbling with walleye of late, and an outdoor writer along the world’s Chinookiest crick has developed an interest in the tasty white-meated fish as well.

WHEN THE SALMON AND STEELHEAD DON’T WANT TO PLAY — OR AT LEAST RETURN IN GOOD NUMBERS — ANGLERS TURN TO WALLEYE, AND THIS YEAR HAS PROVED TO BE A GOOD ONE IN THE COLUMBIA’S EAST GORGE RESERVOIRS, WHERE THIS PAIR WAS CAUGHT RECENTLY. (YAKIMA BAIT)

Al Thomas of The Columbian details why he’s strayed in a great article out today.

“This spring chinook season in Southwest Washington was so flaky — with the high streamflows by mid-March and low Bonneville Dam counts — that I only made one trip for the premier fish of the Columbia River.”

“I opted instead to chase walleyes in the Columbia Gorge and that turned out to be a fantastic choice.”

THEY’RE NOT THE TROPHY WALLEYE THAT FISHERMEN FOCUS ON FROM FEBRUARY THROUGH APRIL IN HOPES OF SETTING A NEW STATE OR WORLD RECORD, BUT PLENTIFUL SMALLER AND TASTIER WALLEYE ARE ATTRACTING, SHALL WE SAY, EYES. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

There seems to be plenty to catch this year, possibly due to 2015’s warm waters as well as its low flows providing.

Creel samplers have been tallying high numbers on The Dalles and John Day Pools, and the upper end of the former reservoir is where Buzz Ramsey found himself a couple weeks ago during a Facebook Live broadcast with guide Cody Herman, fellow Yakima Bait staffer Jarod Higginbotham and ODFW.

GUIDE CODY HERMAN OF DAY ONE OUTDOORS SHOWS OFF ONE OF 28 WALLEYE HE AND THE BIG FELLAS FROM YAKIMA BAIT CAUGHT A COUPLE WEEKS AGO. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

“Yeah, walleye are mostly smaller and don’t fight like silver fish but who cares; they offer a great tasting alternative and pull your string a lot more often than most days spent chasing salmon and/or steelhead,” Ramsey told us afterwards.

They caught 28 in a couple hours of “trolling a Hammer Time spinner in combination with a Spin-N-Glo bottom walker,” he reported.

On the end was a slightly different big-river bait than Ramsey usually runs on the Columbia.

“Yeah, the worms are more of a hassle than lures or even herring, but you can take the fight out of the squirmy little fellows with a hard throw to the floor, which makes hanging them straight on your worm harness a lot easier,” he tipped.

A COPPER-BLADED HAMMER TIME SPINNER BAITED WITH A NIGHTCRAWLER WAS THE SET-UP OF THE DAY. (BUZZ RAMSEY)

Ramsey tells Thomas that when salmon runs are smaller, state Departments of Fish and Wildlife do notice more anglers going out for walleye in the eastern Columbia Gorge reservoirs, suggesting we’re not as locked into chrome only as you might think.

Thomas has been doing so well, he writes that he and his partner have set a boat limit of 20 between them. (There’s otherwise no limit, as both states eliminated those a couple years ago.)

And you might even see Buzz and his trademark hat out there again, trolling for these Midwest imports.

“I cooked a few fillets shortly thereafter, along with two eggs, and again experienced the taste of a great-tasting fish that I’ve gone too long without,” he told us.

OUR MAY 2017 COVER STORY BY ANDYCOHO — ANDY SCHNEIDER — NAILED WHY AND HOW TO ROAM FROM CHROME THIS YEAR.

Fee Hike Dead, WDFW Hopes For General Fund Infusion Instead

It’s now very unlikely Washington hunters and anglers will have to pay more for their licenses any time soon, as it appears WDFW’s fee increase bill is dead for the year.

That word this morning from the agency’s legislative liaison, Raquel Crosier.

“I think we’ll get between $5 million and $10 million in General Fund to deal with budget shortfalls. It’s not as much as we’d hoped for, but it plugs holes,” she said.

Crosier said that $10 million would still require deep cuts, “but not public-facing” ones, meaning they could be dealt with through efficiencies away from the eye of sportsmen and state residents.

As it stands, lawmakers are wrapping up their second special session today, with the third starting tomorrow. Crosier is optimistic a 2017-19 budget with funding for WDFW will be worked out before the June 30 deadline. Though McCleary may not be resolved, that would at least prevent closing fisheries and shuttering hatcheries till a deal is struck.

WDFW’s fee increase proposal — seen by some sportsmen as a done deal but actually requiring the legislature to approve and governor to sign into law — was the subject of a long campaign stretching all the way back to August 2015, when the agency took its Washington’s Wild Future initiative on the road around the state.

June 2016 saw the revealing of proposals, which would have raised around $26 million to help maintain and increase fishing opportunities and enhance hunting ops.

It included $17 catch cards for salmon, steelhead, halibut and sturgeon, later whittled down to $10 apiece in the face of opposition.

This February, the proposal received a public hearing in front of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which helped identify stakeholder concerns and that more work was needed outside Olympia with fishing and hunting groups on HB 1647.

Crosier said that as recently as a month ago, recreational organizations were supportive of 20 percent increases on the fishing side and 7 percent on the hunting side.

But while the Democratic-controlled House preferred the fee-based approach, Republicans who control the upper chamber did not, and it really showed in the language and approaches senators took with WDFW throughout this year’s legislative sessions.

When agency honchos talked about support from constituents, senators pointed to stacks of emails and letters expressing opposition.

If it had been approved, it would have been the first major hike since mid-2011, but to a degree, WDFW’s big ask also faced bad timing.

True, it may really need more funding, but on the backside of some stellar years of fishing, these past two have seen generally poor salmon runs and unprecedented fishery restrictions due to The Blob, the loss of access to Skokomish River kings and coho and the subsequent backing away of support for fee increases by three important angling organizations, as well as self-inflicted wounds such as the unexplained loss of a couple hundred thousand steelhead smolts from the state’s last best summer-run river, all of which left sportsmen wondering why they should pay more for less.

Despite the apparent death of license fee hikes this go-around, WDFW is hopeful two other revenue bills will pass.

This morning, the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to extending the Columbia River endorsement another two years, key for holding salmon and steelhead seasons in the basin.

Crosier said it’s likely the legislature will pass Sen. Kirk Pearson’s SB 5947, with fees going towards monitoring fisheries that occur on or amongst ESA-listed stocks.

And she is also hopeful that legislation addressing the rising threat to Washington waters from aquatic invasive species passes. Sen. Jim Honeyford’s bill has twice been approved unanimously by senators, but keeps getting shuttled back to the House as special sessions end and begin again.

Dipping into the General Fund for however much would begin to fill the $40 million cut out of WDFW’s budget from that source in 2009.

Looking further down the road past the hoped-for infusion, Crosier also mentioned creation of a conservation task force to look into how to better fund nongame management.

 

Apparent Wolf Captured, Collared In Eastern Skagit County

What could be the first wolf captured in Western Washington is now being monitored by wildlife managers.

The 100-pound animal was collared Thursday, June 8, in eastern Skagit County near Marblemount and released.

USFWS CONFIRMS A POSSIBLE WOLF WAS CAPTURED AND COLLARED NOT FAR UP THE SKAGIT VALLEY FROM HERE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The news was broken by the Skagit Valley Herald.

“We did capture what appears to be a 2- to 3-year-old male gray wolf,” confirms U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ann Froschauer late this afternoon.

She says blood and saliva were taken from the animal and sent to the agency’s forensic lab for testing, confirmation that it’s a full-blooded wolf and to determine where it might have come from.

WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS WORK ON THE SEDATED CANID CAPTURED JUNE 8. (USFWS)

While at least four collared wolves have briefly wandered into Western Washington in recent years (one of which didn’t make it back out after being hit on I-90), this would be the first to have been captured, outfitted with telemetry and released west of the Cascades.

Froschauer says its movements are being monitored via GPS collar to “see if it sticks around or wanders off.”

USFWS and WDFW were drawn to the location in mid-May after a resident reported three chickens killed by a wolf and had solid photos to back it up.

Initially there were suggestions that a pack might be in the area, based on howling, but that’s less certain now.

“We did hang some cameras out. We did not see any other animals. As of right now there’s at least one that appears to be a wolf,” Froschauer says.

Grand scheme, a single wolf doesn’t do much for state recovery goals, but it has the potential to bring issues from the 509 much closer to Western Washington.

USFWS has management authority over wolves in the western two-thirds of the state, where the species remains federally listed.

WDFW had no comment.

WDFW also has had no comment about two dead calves found in the Kettle Range two days ago and which were investigated yesterday.

And WDFW probably doesn’t want to comment on the latest from Washington State University, where a professor plans to sue over alleged free speech violations involving wolves.

Steelhead Limit Reduced Then Retention Barred On Columbia, Parts Of Coolwater Tribs

Columbia steelheaders are going to have a tough go of it in 2017, no thanks to 2015’s Blob.

Managers are reducing bag limits on the big river and Southwest Washington tribs first, then closing retention for the species to deal with low forecasted returns of summer-runs and protect critically weak ESA-listed B-runs bound for Idaho and stocks headed to North-central Washington.

“Until last year, we had some pretty good fishing seasons for summer steelhead in the Columbia River Basin,” WDFW’s Ron Roler said in a press release out this afternoon. “Now that ocean conditions have shifted – as they do on a recurrent basis – we all have to structure our fisheries accordingly.”

LOWER COLUMBIA STEELHEADERS LIKE BOB SPAUR WILL SOON SEE THEIR LIMIT CUT IN HALF TO PROTECT LOW FORECASTED RETURNS OF SUMMER-RUNS BACK TO TRIBUTARIES ABOVE BONNEVILLE DAM. SPAUR CAUGHT THIS PAIR IN 2011. (BOB SPAUR)

The restrictions are in an emergency rule-change notice posted this afternoon and in the press release.

Starting June 16 and continuing through July 31, anglers will only be able to keep one hatchery steelhead in the Columbia from the Astoria-Megler Bridge up to The Dalles Dam, as well as in parts of six coolwater tribs.

Those include the Cowlitz below the Lexington (Sparks) Road Bridge; Lewis below the East Fork; Wind below Shipherd Falls; Drano Lake; and White Salmon below the bridge by the former powerhouse site.

Nightfishing will also be banned on the mainstem Columbia up to The Dalles Dam except for anglers enrolled in the northern pikeminnow program, as well as on the above trib sections.

Then, from Aug. 1-31, steelhead retention will close on those same waters as well as at Buoy 10.

Drano will also be closed to steelhead in September.

Restrictions are likely in Oregon’s lower Deschutes and John Day Rivers during that period too, according to a recent article, which also states that the protections will continue upstream into the Snake, where a 30-inch maximum size limit and nightly closures are being considered.

According to WDFW, the Columbia from The Dalles Dam upstream to John Day Dam will close to steelheading in September, John Day to McNary in September and October, and McNary Dam up to Highway 395 in Pasco in October and November.

The rule tweaks come as managers expect only 130,700 summer-runs back to Eastern Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho rivers, the fewest since 1980 and just 38 percent of the recent 10-year average.

But what’s really driving things is that the prediction of 7,300 B-run steelhead includes only 1,100 wild fish.

Because of how that stock is managed under the Endangered Species Act and harvest sharing with the tribes, just 22 B-run mortalities are available for sport and nontribal commercial fisheries in the Columbia and those tribs.

That’s very few fish to go around for a lot of anglers, though B-runs tend to be most vulnerable in Gorge tribs.

Fed by glaciers and snowfields, these provide coolwater refuges for steelhead as they move up the much warmer Columbia. Passage at Bonneville Dam peaks in mid-August, early September at The Dalles.

As the mostly hatchery stocks wait for the Columbia to cool, anglers can do very well at Drano and elsewhere by fishing prawns under a bobber or trolling plugs.

Commercial and tribal fisheries will also be constrained, according to WDFW.

According to a federal fisheries biologist recently interviewed by Eric Barker at the Lewiston Morning Tribune, this year’s low forecasts harken back to The Blob, which on land produced very low snowpacks over winter 2014-15, warmer than usual air and water temps that spring and summer and largescale fish dieoffs, and at sea moved forage around, essentially starving steelhead and salmon.

Last year the effects manifested with a blown A-run forecast, and this year it’s As as well as Bs that will take the hit.

“This is the lowest return we have forecasted I think on record,” NOAA’s Jeremy Jording told Barker. “Even if you go back into the 1990s, this year would be even lower than anything we observed during that poor period of survival.”

‘Free Fishing Season’ Returns To Northwest Starting This Weekend

Early June is “free fishing season” here in the Northwest, a chance to get friends and family without a license out and with all kinds of events and opportunities to take advantage of this weekend and next.

SPRINGERS ARE AMONG THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FREE FISHING DAYS ACROSS THE NORTHWEST. KRIS RONDEAU NABBED THIS BIG ONE ON OREGON’S UMPQUA WHILE ANCHOR FISHING THE LOWER END WITH A GREEN LABEL HERRING BEHIND A SPINNER. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

First up is Free Fishing Weekend in Oregon, June 3-4, which ODFW calls “the perfect weekend to take a friend or family member out fishing, crabbing or clamming.”

The agency has lined up a mess of events all over the state Saturday, and for even more ideas, check out the weekly Recreation Report!

Idaho’s Free Fishing Day is June 10, and Fish and Game will be hosting activities across the Gem State, including its Southwest Region.

Then, on June 10-11, it’s Washington’s turn to host the free fishing.

What to fish for in the Evergreen State? WDFW suggests coastal lings, spinyrays throughout the state and Columbia River shad, among other opportunities, and for even more, check out the June Weekender.

Just remember, even though the fishin’s free, all the usual bag limits and regulations apply.

 

USFWS, WDFW Looking For Signs Of Possible Wolf Pack In Skagit Co.

Federal and state biologists are looking into the possibility that there may be wolves in eastern Skagit County.

Spokeswoman Ann Froschauer says it’s too early for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to confirm that reported tracks, howls and photos mean wolves have indeed arrived on the west side of the North Cascades or how many there might be, but in recent weeks her agency and WDFW biologists have been following up on good leads.

FEDERAL AND STATE BIOLOGISTS HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING UP ON EASTERN SKAGIT COUNTY RESIDENTS’ REPORTS OF POSSIBLE WOLVES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Froschauer says that in mid-May, a resident reported a suspected depredation of their chickens by a wolf and had pictures to back it up.

The resident told investigators that they had heard howling and seen tracks for a couple months beforehand too, according to Froschauer.

“Follow-up conversations with other area residents included reports of additional sightings, tracks, and howling in the area,” she adds.

Froschauer says the howling is “suggestive of multiple wolves.”

“Biologists attempted to capture one or more animals over the next week and a half without success. We have deployed trail cameras, and will continue to investigate reports of wolf activity in the area,” Froschauer says.

Capturing one would help determine if the animal was a purebred wolf, hybrid or something else.

And if proven to be a wolf, it could mean the first pack in Western Washington outside of the British Columbia-denning pack that haunted the Hozomeen area of Washington’s upper Ross Lake in recent years.

Froschauer says USFWS and WDFW get multiple unconfirmed reports of Westside wolves annually, and says at least four individuals are known to have traveled from their packs west across the Cascade Crest at one point or another.

“Wolves have continued to naturally recolonize the state via dispersal from resident Washington packs and neighboring states and provinces,” she says.

Wolves west of Highways 97, 17 and 395 are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act and managed by USFWS. Those east of that line are managed by WDFW and state listed.

On The Trail Of Fishing And Hunting In Germany

Der Angler was right where you’d have expected one to be, casting into the tailrace of a low head dam.

We’d just waltzed the Philosophenweg on the hillside across from Heidelberg and were crossing the Neckar back to the Altstadt for lunch and ice cream when I looked over and saw the man fishing off a ramp sloping into the river.

AN ANGLER FISHES GERMANY’S NECKAR RIVER AS IT FLOWS THROUGH HEIDELBERG. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It was late morning and the sun was shining brightly over Southwest Germany that day earlier this month, but with how stained the water was below the spillway of a set of locks, I figured the fisherman must have felt he had a chance of hooking something.

And I knew there was something very big swimming nearby.

When Amy, River, Kiran and I had started our walk a couple hours before, I’d seen a dark back briefly surface about a half a kilometer downstream, leaving a large set of ripples on the otherwise calm river.

Holy Fahrvergnügen, what the $%@$ was that?!? was my first thought.

If it had been the Columbia, I would have immediately said sea lion, but neither the Neckar nor the Rhine it feeds are known for their pinnipeds, let alone manatees or freshwater dolphins.

As my family walked on ahead, I stood and watched the river, ruling out a swimmer, diver and the odd duck.

Had I just seen one of those wels catfish?

These sturgeon-sized bottomfeeders are native to the Danube and other Central and Eastern European basins, but have done well since being stocked in Western European watersheds, which run on the warmer side.

Pictures abound of fishermen in up to their gills in rivers and lakes while holding huge whiskerfish they’ve hooked and landed (they’re said not to taste good, so are mainly released).

I’m not sure if a wels was what this particular one was after, but I took a couple photos and, as one angler to another, wished him good luck.

It would not be the last time I crossed paths with fishing or hunting during our two-week trip throughout the middle and upper Rhine River valley and its tributaries.

BEING A NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN as well as a hook-and-bullet magazine editor, I naturally keep my eye open for fish and game wherever I go.

If there’s a stream, I’m peeking into it, wondering about its angling possibilities. If there’s a patch of forest, I’m curious about what its leaves and needles might be hiding.

A RESIDENT’S DISPLAY OF ROE BUCK ANTLERS IN ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, IN NORTHERN BAVARIA. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Germany’s woods and waters hold red deer (Hirsch), wild boars (Wildschwein), ducks, rabbits and pigeon, as well as walleye (Zander), pike (Hecht), brown trout (Forelle), introduced grayling, and carp and its relative the asp, among other species.

Of course, fishing and hunting are tightly regulated there, far more so than here, where there are minimal barriers to entry by comparison.

A 2003 article in Montana Outdoors magazine outlines the rigorous steps needed just to get a hunting license — a year of study followed by a test that half are said to fail — as well as the social responsibilities that come with the activity.

Writes James Hagengruber:

The 450,000-some hunters in Germany play the combined role of game warden, wildlife biologist, and agricultural pest controller. They also must ensure that wild game animals have sufficient food and habitat. “The hunting right and the conservation duty are inseparable,” said [Thomas] Baumeister, [a German native who worked for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks].

And a post by a Neckar River valley-based catfisherman who has caught a 150-pound wels details some of what he’s faced with:

We have bans on using livebaits, night fishing, boat fishing, wild camping etc. and you have to abide by them. With special rigs and techniques, you can still present bunches of worms and deadbaits attractively. If you want to be successful, you have to use your imagination.

BUT DURING OUR RECENT TRAVELS through the country my wife was born and grew up in, we crossed contemporary as well as historical references to fishing and hunting, showing their cultural importance.

Right beside the Neckar in Heidelberg was the Goldener Hecht — golden pike — restaurant and hotel.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

On the mountain above this university town were a number of hunting stands …

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

… and near one were fresh tracks of a Reh, a blacktail fawn-sized roe deer.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Outside Meersburg, we spotted a herd of the diminutive deer, though by the time I’d wheeled the rental SUV around to get a picture, all but one had retreated into a patch of trees.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Above the Rhine, Burg Rheinstein offered an impressive antlers-and-armor man cave.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

One hotel we stayed at sported a large bear hide hung inside the front door, while on the floor of a never-conquered castle we toured was this wild boar rug …

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

… and at BaseCamp Bonn, a youth hostel where we stayed one night in a cramped train sleeper car, was this trailer sporting the somewhat miss-set antlers of a stag.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Unlike here, hunters can sell their game meat at farmers markets and to restaurants. At one countryside Gasthaus, I had Hirschragout und spaetzle, venison in sauce with noodles  — sehr lecker!

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Elsewhere, several establishments offered Zander, including the restaurant-hotel across from ours on the Bodensee.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Speaking of Lake Constance, an open-air museum there that told the story of the people who lived in stilted villages on the water a couple thousand years ago had a display of their ancient fishing hooks …

… , though I’m not sure I would have trusted them to hold onto the carp swimming through the Pfahlbaumuseum’s sheltered cove.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

For that, I might have consulted the Jenzi fishing catalog, a sticker for which was affixed to a bench above the Bodensee at Meersburg.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Thus properly outfitted, I wouldn’t have minded tempting the schools of silver fish swimming in the Tauber below the famed walled city of Rothenburg.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

And while we did get up to just under 100 miles an hour on the Autobahn, on smaller country highways speed limits were lower and there were numerous wildlife overpasses helping to prevent collisions with critters — this pair was in southern Baden-Wurtemburg state.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

No, don’t worry, I won’t be moving to Germany anytime soon for its fishing and hunting opportunities. I think those in the Northwest are much more varied and less restrictive to take advantage of.

But I do appreciate that there, those with the will, time, money and patience are able to experience a little of what we take for granted here, making me cherish our opportunities all the more.