Category Archives: Headlines

2017 Saw New Lows For Washington Deer Harvest, WDFW Stats Show

Washington deer hunters had one of their worst seasons last fall, harvesting the fewest animals in more than 20 years.

Part of that was probably due to nearly a new low number of sportsmen who hit the field in pursuit of blacktails, muleys and whitetails, and it could also be a lingering hangover from 2015’s relatively high harvest as well as recent drought and harsher winters.

SNOW FALLS HEAVILY ON THE WALGAMOTT-BELL DEER CAMP IN NORTH-CENTRAL WASHINGTON LAST OCTOBER. THE WEATHER SENT THE HUNTERS HOME WITH TWO AND A HALF DAYS OF SEASON STILL IN HAND — A RECKLESS WASTE OF PRIME TIME THAT LED TO VERY DESERVING SERVINGS OF TAG SOUP THE WHOLE WAY AROUND. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

WDFW’s recently released 2017 Game Harvest Report shows that Evergreen State hunters killed just 24,360 deer during the general season, 26,537 when special permits are included.

Both are the lowest harvests since 1997, as far back as state agency’s online records go.

Next closest low marks are 2011’s general season harvest of 26,638 deer and 29,154 when special permits are included.

High marks are 2004’s 39,359 and 44,544, respectively.

Riflemen, who make up the bulk of the state’s hunters, killed 17,113 bucks during September, October and November 2017’s various general seasons.

That’s also a new cellar dweller, and is nearly 2,000 antlered animals fewer than the next closest fall, 2011, when 19,007 tags were notched.

It’s also nearly 13,000 less than the high mark, 30,058 in 2004.

As for overall hunter numbers, those nearly set a new low; 2017’s 106,977 was only a couple hundred more pumpkins than 2006’s 106,751.

It’s actually more remarkable that 2006’s turnout was so low —  I wonder if it might actually have been due to bad data entry — as the number of hunters has been declining for decades in Washington and across most of the country as Baby Boomers age out of the sport.

Looking at five-year averages, WDFW’s stats show a loss of over 30,000 deer chasers since the late 1990s — and nearly 50,000 since 152,840 headed for the woods in 1999.

FIVE-YEAR AVERAGES
1998-2002: 145,000
2003-2007: 132,000
2008-2012: 126,000
2013-2017: 114,000

Other factors in play include more and more private timber companies charging entry fees to access their sprawling acreages, as well as increasing numbers of wolves.

So far the latter hasn’t been shown to be impacting deer populations, according to a WDFW assessment, but perhaps the perception of packs as well as reality that the predators are moving deer around to different areas are affecting hunters.

As for why 2017 was so poor, WDFW game manager Jerry Nelson said it was possible that 2015’s high general season and special permit harvest of 37,963 deer played a role. That was the most since 2005.

A recent presentation he made to the Fish and Wildlife Commission shows a decline of 3,000 deer killed in Northeast Washington’s whitetail-rich District 1 between 2015, the year the four-point minimum came off two key units, and 2017.

“Some speculate about the drought of 2015 being followed by the above average winters of 2015-16 and 2016-17 as being a factor in some locations,” Nelson added.

The latter winter was particularly strong across the southern tier of Eastern Washington.

Bluetongue also hit far Eastern Washington whitetails in 2015, adenovirus muleys in South-central Washington last year.

Nelson said that fewer special permits were issued last year, though not enough to affect the overall harvest.

Still, he didn’t have any good ideas why so relatively few general season hunters went out.

Poking around the numbers myself, I see that sharp drops in hunter numbers can occur two years after really good seasons.

For instance, following 2004’s huge kill, 2006 saw nearly 40,000 fewer hunters head out, if that year’s statistic is to be trusted.

Following 2015’s, 10,000 fewer went out in 2017.

If there are any positives to be had in the data, it’s that general season rifle success percentages have actually been relatively strong in recent years.

The three best deer seasons since 1997 were 2015 (30.6 percent), 2016 (28.8) and 2014 (28.2).

And five of the top six have occurred since 2012, with only 2004’s standout 27.7 in the mix.

On the flip side, 2017’s 22.5 percent was fifth lowest since 1997, with 1998’s 18.7 percent the worst of all, followed by 1999’s and 1997’s 21.2 and 21.6 percents, respectively.

Those three bad years in the late 1990s followed hard on the heels of a very bad winter and new three-point minimums for mule deer.

But now with 2018’s seasons less than five months away, what do Washington deer hunters have to look forward to?

“On the plus side, we have had a mild winter this year, so deer over-winter survival should be good,” Nelson noted.

A WDFW press release out after the Fish and Wildlife Commission approved hunting seasons for this and the next two years notes that “Hunters will be allowed to take antlerless white-tailed deer in game management units 101-121 in northeast Washington. Special permits will be available to seniors and hunters using modern firearms, while other hunters can take antlerless deer during general hunting seasons.”

Commissioners also retained the 11-day general season mule deer hunt in Eastern Washington.

ELK HARVEST, HUNTER NUMBERS ALSO LOW

WDFW stats also show that 2017 elk season was the second worst in terms of harvest since 1997, and it also saw a new low for hunter numbers afield.

As with deer, the two stats point to a correlation — fewer hunters afield are naturally going to kill fewer animals, but permit levels and weather conditions also play a role. The low snow year of 2014-15 may have subsequently impacted elk productivity, and last year saw over antlerless permit levels for the Yakima and Coluckum hunters reduced by more than 2,500. Prime portions of the Yakima Herd range were also under area closures in September due to forest fires.

During last year’s general seasons, 54,638 wapiti chasers killed 3,011 bulls and 1,224 antlerless elk, for a total of 4,235. Add in special permits, and the 2017 harvest was 5,465 animals.

Except for the number of hunters, all those figures are second only to 1997, when 59,015 hunters bagged 2,586 bulls and 1,127 antlerless elk during the regular season for a total of 3,713 animals. Including special permits, that year’s take was 4,919.

High marks over those years include 2000’s 86,205 hunters, 4,519 and 2,260 general season bulls and antlerless elk, and 2012’s regular and permit harvest of 9,162.

With Land, Wildlife Boards’ Votes, Stemilt Basin Deal Completed

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

The sale of 1,275 acres in Chelan County’s Stemilt Basin by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) completes a project that began in 2007 and has involved multiple community partners to protect habitat and outdoor recreation.

(DNR)

The Board of Natural Resources approved the transfer of two parcels eight miles south of Wenatchee today, following the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission’s approval April 13.

In 2013, both boards approved the sale and transfer of 1,268 acres in two adjacent parcels, bringing the final total of new WDFW property to 2,543 acres.

The land transaction was recommended by the Stemilt Partnership, a community based coalition of agriculture, wildlife, recreation, development, and conservation interests.

The Partnership was established by Chelan County in response to community concerns in 2007 when the four DNR sections were originally proposed for sale. By selling these lands, DNR managers could buy land elsewhere in the state better suited to producing revenue for the Common School Trust.

“Two state agencies, a county and an engaged community of diverse interests worked as partners to make this a landmark day for public outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat in Chelan County,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who chairs the Board of Natural Resources in addition to leading DNR.

WDFW secured federal Endangered Species Act funding to buy the remaining two sections of DNR trust land, appraised at $1,778,000, to protect Stemilt Basin habitat for elk, deer, wolves, and other wildlife species. The parcels, which are adjacent to Chelan County property, are managed as a unit of WDFW’s Colockum Wildlife Area. Land acquisition is one of many ways that WDFW carries out its statutory mandate to protect and preserve fish and wildlife habitat, while also providing hunting, fishing and other opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.

“We’re managing this land on a broad watershed-wide basis that protects water supplies for fish and irrigated agriculture, along with critical wildlife habitat,” said Jim Brown, WDFW Northcentral Regional Director. “We’re balancing our management of traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, with multiple-use recreational access that the Partnership values.”

Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, who worked with the Partnership for years as a Washington State Senator, called the transfer the fulfillment of ten years of commitment.

“I am thrilled that this transfer has finally happened,” said Parlette, who is currently an executive director with the Chelan-Douglas Health District. “I give a lot of credit to lead staff at Fish and Wildlife, DNR, and Chelan County, in addition to those individuals who tirelessly attended all of the meetings.”

(Editor’s note: During a hearing in Olympia, then-Sen. Parlette defended the importance of wildlife habitat in the Stemilt Basin when questions arose from another Republican former senator, Brian Dansel.)

Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said the deal exemplifies what can be achieved through collaboration.

“I am pleased to see the community’s vision for this area coming to fruition,” Overbay said. “I commend all of the citizens and organizations who have worked tirelessly over the past decade to make this a reality.”

SW WA, Lower Columbia Fishing Report (4-17-18)

THE FOLLOWING FISHING REPORTS ORIGINATED WITH WDFW AND WERE TRANSMITTED BY JOE HYMER, PSMFC

Washington lower Columbia mainstem sport sampling summary – Sat. April 14

From Bonneville Dam downstream to the top of Puget Is., nearly 1,200 salmonid boats and over 600 bank anglers were counted during last Saturday’s flight.

WASHINGTON SIDE CATCH STATS FOR BOAT ANGLERS ON THE APRIL 14 COLUMBIA RIVER SPRING CHINOOK REOPENER. (WDFW)

MASON WEINHEIMER STRUGGLES TO LIFT A 20-POUND HATCHERY SPRING CHINOOK CAUGHT ON THE APRIL 14 REOPENER. HE WAS FISHING IN THE VANCOUVER AREA WITH HIS DAD, JOSH, WHO REPORTED PRETTY FAST ACTION “THAT WAS A GREAT DAY, STARTED AT 12:30 AND BACK ON THE TRAILER AT 3:30,” HE EMAILED. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Washington Columbia River tributaries and lakes sampling summaries – April 9-15

Salmon/Steelhead

Cowlitz River – From the I-5 Br downstream: 120 bank rods kept 2 adult spring Chinook and 2 steelhead. 17 boat rods kept 1 adult spring Chinook. Above the I-5 Br: 146 bank rods kept 14 adult spring Chinook and 20 steelhead and released 2 steelhead. 199 boat rods kept 3 adult spring Chinook and 49 steelhead and released 4 steelhead.

Most of the spring Chinook were checked at the barrier dam; steelhead at the trout hatchery.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 775 winter-run steelhead, 39 spring Chinook adults and two jacks during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power employees released 40 winter-run steelhead into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton and they released 14 winter-run steelhead and one spring Chinook adult into the Cispus River, near Yellow Jacket Creek.

Tacoma Power also released 33 winter-run steelhead and one spring Chinook adult into Lake Scanewa near Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 6,340 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Monday, April 16. Water visibility is 6 feet and the water temperature is 44.6 degrees F.
Kalama River – 33 bank anglers released 1 steelhead. 7 boat anglers had no catch.

Mainstem Lewis River – 15 bank rods released 1 adult spring Chinook. 1 boat angler had no catch.

North Fork Lewis River – 20 bank rods had no catch. 17 boat rods kept 3 adult spring Chinook and released 2 steelhead.

Wind River – 3 boat anglers had no catch.

Drano Lake – 4 boat anglers had no catch.

Klickitat River – 4 bank anglers had no catch.

Trout

Recent plants of catchable size rainbows and cutthroats. No report on angling success.

Lake/Pond
Date
Species
Number
Fish per Pound
Hatchery
Notes

LACAMAS LK (CLAR)<https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=LACAMAS+LK+%28CLAR%29&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Clark County – Region 5
Apr 09, 2018
Rainbow
6,000
2
VANCOUVER HATCHERY

BATTLE GROUND LK (CLAR)<https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=BATTLE+GROUND+LK+%28CLAR%29&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Clark County – Region 5
Apr 10, 2018
Rainbow
2,000
2.5
GOLDENDALE HATCHERY

BATTLE GROUND LK (CLAR)<https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=BATTLE+GROUND+LK+%28CLAR%29&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Clark County – Region 5
Apr 11, 2018
Cutthroat
4,179
2.5
SKAMANIA HATCHERY

HORSESHOE LK (COWL)<https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=HORSESHOE+LK+%28COWL%29&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Cowlitz County – Region 5
Apr 11, 2018
Rainbow
3,367
2.6
MOSSYROCK HATCHERY

KRESS LK (COWL)<https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/search.php?searchby=LakeStocked&search=KRESS+LK+%28COWL%29&orderby=LakeStocked%20ASC,%20StockDate%20DESC>
Cowlitz County – Region 5
Apr 11, 2018
Rainbow
3,120
2.6
MOSSYROCK HATCHERY

Tacoma Power released 1,600 rainbow trout into South Lewis County Park Pond.

Only 3 South Selkirk Caribou Left, Intensive Survey Finds

There may be only three mountain caribou left in Washington’s, Idaho’s and British Columbia’s herd — a 75-percent decline since last year.

RECENT SURVEYS FOUND NO BULLS IN THE SOUTH SELKIRK HERD. (USFWS)

Mid-March’s intensive three-day winter survey found only cows as well.

“It’s a tough situation for caribou in the South Selkirks,” says Bart George, a wildlife biologist for the Kalispel Tribe in Cusick, north of Spokane.

It marks a new low for a herd challenged by large-scale habitat alterations and new predators, wolves, arriving in the heights.

At one time mountain caribou were as numerous as “bugs,” according to a First Nations man interviewed for Last Stand: The Vanishing Caribou Rainforest, a film that made the rounds in the region last summer.

George says that the three cows, which are fairly young animals of seven years or less, were all captured and given GPS collars.

They were also tested to see if they were pregnant.

Those results just arrived in Vancouver and “hopefully” will be available soon, he says, but if the animals are pregnant, that would mean there may still be a bull or two somewhere out there on the landscape, or at least was last fall.

And if the cows successfully bear calves, the herd could possibly rebuild to six later this spring, George says.

If not, managers may need to supplement with caribou from farther north — though that may also depend on what surveys in the Purcell Mountains turn up.

“We’re not going to just let three animals, especially cows, die in the Selkirks,” George vows.

This winter has been pretty solid in this mountainous country, with snowpack at 150 percent of average — “great for caribou” — but it also buried a maternity pen that was built especially for the cows, rendering it useless for protection from predators.

It’s also too late to safely recapture the cows if they are pregnant, George says.

He plans to intensify his monitoring of the herd with a spotting scope, maybe even drones, in hopes of finding that they had calves.

The collars may also lead them to other caribou that somehow were overlooked during the fixed-wing and helicopter surveys last month.

“We were hoping for 12 again,” George says.

As for why the herd’s numbers dropped so precipitously from a dozen in March 2017, he says it’s possible that other members had been hit by an avalanche or there was a vehicle strike on the main highway through the mountains, though he didn’t hear of one.

“We’re still going to move forward as if there are caribou on the landscape, and go ahead with wolf control actions” on the BC side of the herd’s range, George says.

He notes that there’s a collar on one of Washington’s Salmo Pack, which numbers six and overlaps with the ungulate’s recovery zone.

Though the caribou primarily stay in Canada, the southernmost herd in North America still make occasional forays into Washington and Idaho, according to collar data, George says.

 

Correction: The Kalispel Tribe’s name and headquarters were incorrect in the original version of this post. They are based in Cusick, not Ione, further north on the Pend Oreille River.

Washington’s Last Razor Clam Dig Of The Season Coming Up April 19-22

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Clam diggers have one last chance to dig razor clams this season during the final opening set to begin April 19.

LED BY THEIR “RAZOR CLAM MASTER” GRANDFATHER, WALLY SANDE (LEFT), CORBIN, LEXI AND AUSTIN HAN, THEIR PARENTS JERRY AND BRITT, ALONG WITH WALLY’S WIFE CAROL, ENJOYED A GREAT DIG A COUPLE APRILS AGO NEAR WESTPORT, LIMITING IN JUST HALF AN HOUR OR SO. AFTERWARDS, JERRY ALSO ENJOYED CATCHING REDTAIL SURFPERCH ON CLAM NECKS. (DAIWA PHOTO CONTEST)

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

Mocrocks will be open for digging for four days, April 19-22, joined by Long Beach and Twin Harbors during the weekend of April 21-22. Copalis will be open only on Saturday, April 21.

“Since this is likely the last dig of the spring season, we expect a good turnout,” said Dan Ayres, WDFW’s coastal shellfish manager. “The opening also coincides with the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival on Saturday.”

For the first two days of the opening, digging must be completed by noon. That is not the case, however, for the final two days, when low tides occur close to noon those days, Ayres said. WDFW has extended digging times for April 21-22, as listed below.

The upcoming dig is approved on the following beaches, dates and morning low tides:

  • April 19, Thursday9:46 a.m.; -0.9 feet; Mocrocks
  • April 20Friday10:37 a.m.; -0.7 feet; Mocrocks
  • April 21Saturday11:34 a.m.; -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Copalis (digging hours will be extended to 1 p.m.)
  • April 22Sunday12:38 p.m.; -0.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks (digging hours will be extended to 2 p.m.)

Under state law, diggers 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.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2018-19 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.

During the dig, state wildlife managers urge clam diggers to avoid disturbing snowy plovers and streaked horned larks. Both species nest in the soft, dry sand on the southern section of Twin Harbors beach and at Leadbetter Point on the Long Beach Peninsula. The snowy plover is a small bird with gray wings and a white breast. The lark is a small bird with a pale yellow breast and brown back. Male larks have a black mask, breast band and “horns.”

To protect these birds, the department asks that clam diggers avoid the dunes and areas of the beach with soft, dry sand. When driving to a clam-digging area, diggers should enter the beach only at designated access points and stay on the hard-packed sand near or below the high-tide line.

More details on how to avoid disturbing nesting birds can be found on the WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

‘Departure Of A Legend’–NW Outdoor Humorist Patrick McManus Passes Away

Fishing and hunting funnyman Patrick McManus passed away earlier this week. He was 84.

A true Northwest gem, McManus wrote for national magazines, and his works were compiled into beloved books.

PATRICK MCMANUS AND SOME OF HIS FUNNIEST BOOKS. (EASTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY VIA FLICKR, CC 2.0)

“This is the departure of a legend. Pat will be as synonymous with Outdoor Life’s later years as Jack O’Connor was with its middle years,” wrote Andrew McKean, former editor of OL, on Facebook this morning. “As a writer, he was funny, irreverent, wickedly naughty, and his collection of characters will endure in our hunting camps and imaginations for generations. As a man he was kind, thoughtful, and unfailingly polite. One of my most memorable jobs upon joining OL was editing Pat’s words, and later working with him to deliver his annual holiday-season column after he ‘officially’ retired. RIP, PM”

I owe a debt of gratitude to McManus too. As a lad, I poured over A Fine and Pleasant Misery, They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They, Never Sniff a Gift Fish, and The Grasshopper Trap and used them as inspiration in trying my own hand at telling tales of my times afield.

Encouragement from family led me to write more and more, and pretty soon it got out of control, and well, here we are today.

McManus grew up in North Idaho surrounded by females, not unlike I did after my parents divorced and my sisters, mom, dog, cat and I moved in with my grandmother.

His youth provided the cast of characters that salted and spiced up his outdoor stories, people like mentor Rancid Crabtree and friend Retch Sweeney. My favorite story of all was the one about his first deer, which he somehow lashed to his bicycle — only the buck wasn’t actually dead yet. And I’ve seen my share of his kind of deer tracks, ones so fresh pine seedlings had sprouted in them.

Despite reportedly failing the first English class he enrolled in at Washington State University, McManus eventually graduated from my alma mater and went on to teach at Eastern Washington University as well as began writing for various magazines.

McManus may not have been the best hunter or angler out there, but according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, over his lifetime his books — which included a fictional series — sold more than 5 million copies.

Along with a Distinguished Faculty Award from EWU, in 1986 he won the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s highest honor, the Excellence in Craft award.

“Pat McManus is not a ‘funny writer.’ He is a highly intelligent craftsman who milks and molds a situation for the desired effect,” wrote Spokane outdoor writer Alan Liere in a perspective for OWAA on his mentor. “Each sentence is carefully crafted to this end. Each word is judged for potential effect. McManus can make anything humorous.”

As I grew older and my reading tastes changed from McManus and Jim Kjelgaard to Hunter S. Thompson, so too did my writing, but I’ve always tried to incorporate humor where appropriate.

Liere’s piece on McManus for OWAA is wrapped around a lunch the two enjoyed, and Liere closes with this thought as they exit the restaurant:

“Did I buy?” [McManus] grinned as he climbed in his car. “In that case, you owe me.”

I closed the door and rapped a goodbye on the front fender. “Do I ever,” I thought.

Indeed.

 

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this misstated the time of Pat McManus’s death as Thursday evening. However, he actually passed on on Wednesday, according to news reports. Thursday evening was when it became public.

Skagit, Sauk Opening For Steelhead

Spring steelheading will open on parts of the Skagit and Sauk Rivers for the first time since 2009.

AN ANGLER CASTS A LINE ON THE SKAGIT RIVER AT THE MOUTH OF THE SAUK EARLIER THIS YEAR BEFORE FISHING CLOSED AFTER JAN. 31. (CHASE GUNNELL)

Federal overseers this morning signed off on a permit allowing the state to hold the catch-and-release fishery on the big North Cascades waters over this and the coming four seasons.

“This is the most important fishery in the state to me,” said angler Ryley Fee, who was getting an early head start on the weekend. “I’m leaving tonight.”

Per WDFW HQ, here are this year’s regs:

* Open dates: April 14-15, 18-22, 25-29
*
Skagit River: Open from the Dalles Bridge in Concrete to the Cascade River Road Bridge in Marblemount. Fishing from boat under power prohibited.
*
Sauk River: Open from the mouth to the Sauk Prairie Road Bridge in Darrington. Fishing from a boat equipped with an internal combustion motor is prohibited.
*
Single-point barbless hooks
*
Night closures in effect
*
Use of bait prohibited

In a press release, regional fisheries manager Edward Eleazer advised anglers to keep an eye on his agency’s emergency rule-change notice page, as an early closure and additional restrictions might still be applied to the fishery.

“Anglers have an incredible opportunity to fish for wild steelhead on one of the renowned rivers of the West Coast,” Eleazer said. “To ensure there will be steelhead fishing in the basin for years to come, we’re asking anglers to comply with all fishery rules and to help keep the river free of litter.”

The opening is the culmination of years of lobbying by Occupy Skagit, which ironically had just recently given up hope the rivers would reopen in time this month.

According to Eleazar, cooperation from the Skagit tribes was also “essential” in getting the permit. WDFW also reports that tribal fishermen will not hold their “scheduled steelhead fisheries this year in order to limit fishery impacts.”

I don’t think I can express how huge and important of a deal that is — hat tip to the Swinomish, Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagits, I appreciate it.

Ultimate approval hinged on National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator Barry Thom giving the final OK to the proposed fisheries.

“The key is that we believe the comanagers found the right balance between allowing some fishing opportunities and protecting Skagit River steelhead for the future,” said federal spokesman Michael Milstein. “The improved resilience of Skagit steelhead is a positive reflection on the many partnerships and hard work that has gone into habitat restoration and other recovery actions.”

The popular spring recreational season was halted in 2010 by a series of low forecasted returns and then written out of the regulations pamphlet because WDFW didn’t have a permit to open it due to the 2007 listing of Puget Sound steelhead.

But the past three years have averaged over 8,000 spawners, though the 2018 run is expected to be down yet still within fishable numbers.

“Stay of my rock,” joked Fee, as the fishery likely will draw a good crowd due to pent-up demand.

Under the approved plan, state managers will monitor the rivers, taking creel data. Those staffers had been ready since late winter, but the approval process has dragged on and on.

“We all would have liked to issue a decision sooner but the great value of the Skagit population required us to do a careful and complete job, and that took time,” said Milstein. “We appreciate everyone’s patience with us, and we ask for continued support as we continue toward recovery of these fish that have so much meaning to so many people across the region.”

Not every Westside angler agreed with reopening the rivers, but it provides an opportunity on a strong stock in a region where steelhead fisheries are rarer and rarer as hatchery releases tapered off and habitat issues come home to roost.

“Anglers are keenly aware of the condition of our wild steelhead rivers and can be powerful advocates for their conservation,” Trout Unlimited’s Rob Masonis said in a press release. “If we want healthy, productive rivers with resilient wild steelhead, we need to keep anglers on the water when wild steelhead populations can handle it.”

Even if I don’t have a chance to hit the Sauk and Skagit before the end of this month, I’m looking forward more than ever to 2019’s full late winter-spring season!

Lower Columbia Springer Anglers Get Another Day Of Fishing

Spring Chinook anglers can chase their quarry again this Saturday, April 14, on the Columbia below Bonneville Dam.

State salmon managers made the decision to reopen the fishery yesterday afternoon after a very long conference call. Official rule-change notices haven’t been posted at this point, but here’s where to find ODFW’s and WDFW’s.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

They had initially proposed two days, the second being Wednesday, April 18, but there was quite a bit of pushback from upstream recreational and tribal fishing interests as well as from a higher-up at WDFW, according to Bill Monroe reporting in The Oregonian.

A fact sheet that came out before the meeting said that through April 7, anglers had accounted for 3,680 of the 7,157 available upriver mortalities, leaving 51 percent of the catch allocation at the 30 percent buffered runsize still available.

The forecast calls for 166,700 springers bound for tribs beyond Bonneville.

But this year’s return is coming in very sluggishly, with the tally breaking the triple-digit mark 20 days later than the 10-year average and the overall count of 125 through April 11 still the lowest on record for this same point of the run.

The Columbia has been running “slightly lower, colder, and clearer than recent 5-year averages for the first half of April,” managers reported.

Still, those are highly fishable conditions — at least if you’re not a plunker. Boaters have accounted for most of the catch.

“Given an available balance on the pre-season, buffered allocation of upriver spring Chinook(3,477 fish balance), there is potential for additional angling opportunity,” the fact sheet stated.

WDFW honchos have essentially been reacting to last year when a slow-developing run led to early closures in Eastern Washington.

It’s unclear how the rest of the 2018 springer run will proceed, but two things are for certain:

“Enjoy Saturday fishing, and in the meantime we will work hard to have a hearing to review the impacts as soon as is reasonable after the one day reopener,” read an email blast from the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association out last night.

 

2nd Northern Pike Caught In Lake Washington, But Unfortunately Released

If you catch a northern pike in Lake Washington — or any other Washington lake, for that matter — do me a personal favor and chop its head off.

Slash its gills, slit its belly, hack it in half, singe the carcass over high heat.

(MERCER ISLAND POLICE)

Ahem, I apologize for letting fly such murderous thoughts on a Wednesday morning.

But I’m still scratching my head about what a bass angler was thinking when they caught and released one of the nonnative predators just south of Mercer Island in recent weeks.

It was the second pike captured in the big metro lake since early 2017, both of which could have only arrived in Lake Washington via someone’s livewell or cooler, just like the infestation of walleye.

Hell, we don’t need a border wall, we need a pike wall to keep these illegal piscine immigrants from spreading further into the state from the northeast corner.

And we should task the Washington National Guard with chasing down the bucket biologists responsible for it!

It’s possible that this particular basser was just really confused about what to do with their unexpected catch.

With two growing boys, lord knows I’ve been known to offer the advice “Better safe than sorry.” Who wants a ticket from the gamies for violating some arcane rule?

But I’ll bet today the angler might choose differently — at least, I hope they would.

“Whoever illegally stocked walleye and northern pike into Lake Washington is no friend of warmwater anglers. They are even no friend to walleye anglers,” says Bruce Bolding, the state’s spinyray fisheries manager. “Warmwater detractors tend to put all nonnative species under the same umbrella, but comparing pike and bass is like comparing apples and oranges.”

Pike are an invasive aquatic species — the seventh most unwanted in the entire million square miles of the Western United States, according to a recent report.

They pose a huge threat to native species and the restoration of salmon in the Upper Columbia, as well as downstream should they get past Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams.

So let’s go over the rules for this Fish and Wildlife Commission-designated prohibited species.

Per WDFW’s fishing regulations, there is no minimum size on northern pike, there is no daily limit on northern pike, there is no possession limit on northern pike.

Perhaps the next iteration of the pamphlet should have another line reading something like:

All northern pike hooked and landed by anglers are required to be killed — and a wooden stake must be pushed through the fish’s heart.

I doubt WDFW will do that anytime soon, but I like what the Colville Tribes are doing. This year they’re again offering a $10 reward per pike caught on Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River.

So in that spirit, I will pay $50 to anyone who brings me a northern pike AND CAN PROVE via video and pictures beyond a shadow of a doubt that it indeed was caught in Lake Washington.

(2018 limit: $150, or first three fish — hey, I’m not made of money and let’s not tell my wife about this, OK?)

We’re at 14240 Interurban Avenue South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168, less than 7 miles from the Gene Coulon Ramp, and open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bring me your dead.

‘New Record Low’ For Columbia Upriver Springer Run

This year’s Columbia River upriver spring Chinook run is off to a dubious start.

The 101 of the year’s first salmon counted at Bonneville so far is a “new record low,” according to Joe Hymer, a supervising fisheries biologist in Ridgefield.

A SPRINGER HOUND WONDERS, “WHERE ARE THE DANG FISH?” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s just 4.62 percent of the 10-year average at the dam for the date, 2,186.

“The previous record low were the 120 fish counted through April 10, 2005,” Hymer reported in an email factoid sent out this morning.

The April 10, 2006, count of 129 appears to be next lowest, a quick check of other low years’ tallies shows.

Even the lowest overall springer run seen at Bonneville, 1995’s, had pushed 1,616 over the dam by this point.

The 2018 forecast called for 166,700, about 90 percent of the 10-year average.

But this year’s top day so far was 27 last Friday, and the count has since posted 18-, 6-, 4- and 2-fish days.

Asked “What is the hold up? Is the water too cold, too shallow, too turbid, too pinnipeddy? Or is the forecast wrong?” Hymer simply replied, “Yes.”

Forecasters had warned of uncertainty — “Poor ocean conditions could potentially have negative impacts on spring Chinook returns” — when they issued predictions for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis Rivers.

On the flip side, test netting earlier this week produced more than twice as many springers a drift as the previous week, 36 versus 14, but upriver fish declined to just 50 percent of the catch.

The sport fishery ended on Saturday, April 7, and catch stats have been a bit sketchy this season, but Hymer reported half a Chinook per boat (448 kept for 998 craft) landed last week, with continued dismal plunking for Washington-side shore sitters (three for 203).