The woods and waters of Washington reopened to hunting and fishing today, and it was good.
From Pend Oreille County to Puget Sound, the shared Columbia to the Central Cascades, Tuesday marked the first time in nearly six weeks that Evergreen State sportsmen have been able to chase rainbows and spring kings, lings and largemouth bass, bruins and gobblers.
Fishing and hunting were closed in late March by Governor Inslee as a precaution to slow the spread of Covid-19, but early last week it was announced that on May 5 most seasons would reopen, along with day use of WDFW and DNR lands, water access sites and many state parks.
As first light began to seep into the northeasternmost parts of Washington, turkey hunters were hunkered in the forest in hopes birds would fly down from roost trees and saunter toward their setups.
When the gates were opened at the Wenas Wildlife Area, shed seekers sprinted madly through the sage, flashlight bobbing in search of elk antlers left behind by wapiti on the winter range.
In the Gorge’s Washington-side tributaries, anglers trolled for the year’s first salmon, while below Bonneville they worked the Columbia in the month of May for the first time since 2016.
As the sun rose higher, kiddos and families filled stringers with rainbows recently stocked in Westside lakes, and as the morning wore on the boys in bigger boats jigged Puget Sound’s reefs for toothsome and tasty lingcod.
Then there was yours truly, who, ahem, arrived at his local pond at the crack of 11 a.m. with his youngest in tow, made a couple passes with hardly a nibble, switched over to yellow perch gear and said son proceeded to catch his nicest trout yet.
And now, with the sun now gradually sinking in the western sky, wild turkey is marinating, white- and pink- and orange-meated fish being seasoned, veggies prepared, and grills are firing up in anticipation of a fresh feast.
Ahhh, yes, the Simultaneous Season Opener of Nearly Everything across the Washington. (Ocean waters remain closed, as do halibut, shrimp, clams, oysters and mussels everywhere.)
There has never been a day like this in the history of the state — and please dear lord, never let there be another.
But it was glorious and something to be part of — though of course not too close to one another, and close to home as well.
It Meant More.
During the past six weeks, more than one Washington angler and hunter has vowed to boycott WDFW over the governor’s closure, but as the reopener neared, printers at Sportco, Outdoor Emporium, Fred Meyer and elsewhere have been extra busy as pent-up demand finally met opportunities.
“There has been a large surge in license sales the past two days and today is super busy as well,” reported Staci Lehman, a WDFW communications staffer based in Spokane.
She says customer service representatives have been taking “LOTS” of calls on license questions, as well as hyperspecific ones about boat ramps and wildlife areas.
The latter is easier than the former: Yes.
Myriad entities own launches in Washington (as well as Oregon), from the state to counties to cities to utilities to federal agencies to tribes, and essentially, it’s up to each whether their facilities are available to the public at this time or not.
As for the facilities – read: restrooms – that varies too. Best bet is to go at home, but bring your own TP and hand sanitizer in case of emergency.
And remember that for the time being, state lands are only open for day use and all national forest campgrounds are closed.
“Capt. (Bob) Weaver and others have reported seeing a lot of people preparing campers and we would like to save them some disappointment when they get to their destination,” said Lehman.
The Region 3 enforcement boss also told her that all the fishing holes seemed to be occupied, “but so far people seem to be doing a good job of social distancing.”
“Lots of groups that appear to be families but very few groups of just adults and all groups seem to be keeping a good distance between them,” Lehman said.
Along with recreating locally, anglers and hunters are being asked to do so only with members of their household to maintain social distancing.
The lake my son and I fished is near the King-Snohomish County line and I’d fished it a couple times in the past, though I can’t remember how I fared.
“How do you know we’ll catch anything?” Kiran wanted to know as I packed the kayak to the water.
“I’ve just got a good feeling,” I said.
“Probably coronavirus,” he replied.
There was one bank angler already there, and as we pushed off from shore two fellow kayak anglers who were paddling in gave us a wide berth.
We tried trolling one of my favorite lures, a green and black Wedding Ring spinner baited with worms from our garden, but only got a nibble or two over several passes.
With the light wind blowing, I took us into more sheltered waters and we switched over to tiny tube jigs, also baited with worm chunks, in hopes of getting some yellow perch to bite.
Back on shore, a few more bank anglers had arrived to try their luck, maybe a little closer than I would have been comfortable with, but observers were keeping their space.
Suddenly Kiran’s rod bowed with what looked like the world’s biggest perch — until I saw a silver side flash through the water: It was actually a fat rainbow trout of 15 to 16 inches, a holdover if a review of WDFW’s stocking stats is any indication.
It gave the lad quite a fight but we got it into the net and admired it. Honestly, I was a little jealous, and as we walked back to the rig about an hour later, I tried to insist my 11-incher was actually bigger, but Kiran was wisely having none of that Fake News.
Away from my Facebook feed and with a disinfecting sun shining brightly overhead and an osprey flying back and forth, it was wonderful to get outside again. Yes, I’ve been doing lots of gardening and walks around the neighborhood, but I don’t think being on the water ever felt so good. We take so much for granted.
We will remember the spring of 2020 for a long time, and so too one extraordinary day when the woods and the waters all opened together and we celebrated, albeit 6 or so feet apart.