In the matter of one week the tides have swung all the way around on area fishing prospects with a net result that’s really just about the same.
For nearly all of October and the first two and a half weeks of November, a lack of autumn rains have been blamed for a dearth of salmon in regional rivers. Now, after a string of sopping wet days sitting beneath a banana belt rainstorm some area rivers have raged all the way toward flood stage and the rest are blown out like clock radio speakers at a house party.
“We were too dry and now we’re all blown out,” said Lloyd with the low-down at the Dennis Company in Montesano. “Fishing has been modest at best. People are catching fish but other guys are getting skunked. I don’t think it was a very good salmon season.”
Lloyd noted that the dog king season is over on the Chehalis for the year but there might still be some silvers lingering in the watershed once the river clears up a bit.
“There will be a late run through the end of December but it will be a lot smaller and a lot of native fish. The hatchery fish usually come in earlier,” Lloyd said.
He added that some steelhead were reported biting in the Wynoochee right before the heavens opened up. The Satsop River will likely have some steelies ready to bite soon as well, just not as many as the ‘Nooch. Lloyd recommends twitching marabou jigs, tossing soft beads, trolling eggs or sand shrimp for the best odds on winter steelhead in the Chehalis River system.
It could be awhile before those baits do any good, because the rivers are all running high and muddy this week. On Tuesday the Satsop River was reportedly nearling its flood stage of 38 feet while the mainstem Chehalis River near Montesano experienced high levels above 12 feet. For comparison, the highest level the Chehalis reached in that area in 2015-16 was 15.3 feet. Meanwhile, the Wynoochee River was nearly running wild on Wednesday with a flow of 5,680 cubic feet per second at Black Creek and 2,020 cubic feet per second at Grisdale.
On the Nisqually River below the LaGrande Dam the flow was reported at 680 cubic feet per second on Wednesday. Since those readings are typically only available on rivers with hydroelectric dams, now is as good of time as any to remember the city of Centralia’s contribution to demise of the Nisqually River’s historic salmon runs.
“The Centralia Light Department built a 6-foot-high diversion dam in 1929 to move water from the river into a canal and through a generating station,” reads part of an article on HistoryLink.org, a Washington-centric encyclopedia website. “Salmon struggled to get past the dam and swim upriver due to the high volumes of water taken from the river’s main stem, and the dam lacked screens to prevent fish swimming downstream from getting swept into the canal and killed in the powerhouse. The city added a fish ladder and screens in 1955, but the damage was done. Fish populations had fallen, and at least one run of spring Chinook had gone extinct.”
Out on the lower Columbia River system high water has also diluted the piscatorial prospects recently. While all salmon and steelhead fishing remains closed from Buoy 10 to Pasco, on the mainstem anglers were bumping into a few fish on feeder rivers before the clouds began to burst over the weekend.
In the most recent creel sample provided by WDFW three bank anglers on the Elochoman River kept one steelhead and one coho jack while releasing the same combination of fish. Out on the Grays River four bank anglers kept four coho and three coho jacks and three rods on one boat released three more coho. On the Kalama River, 24 bank anglers showed no catch and six bank anglers on the East Fork Lewis River were also skunked. The week previous WDFW creel sample showed 11 bank anglers on the Grays released one steelhead. Ten bank anglers on the Elochoman kept one steelhead and released one steely and a coho jack, while 35 bank anglers on the Kalama River released three Chinook adults. On the Lewis River five bank rods and one boat angler had no catch and four bank anglers on the East Fork Lewis River released one coho adult.
The fishing on the Cowlitz River last week was as bad as anywhere according to those WDFW sampling efforts. From the mouth to Vader last week, eight bank rods and five boat rods showed no catch. From the I-5 Bridge up to the Barrier Dam another four bank rods showed no catch, but four rods between two boats said they released two coho. The week previous was hardly any better on the Cowlitz as 29 lower river bank rods showed no catch and eight bank rods up toward Blue Creek and the Barrier Dam released two adult Chinook and two silver jacks.
Anglers should be aware that retention of Chinook is currently prohibited on the lower Cowlitz River, including all of its tributaries. Those closures include the Toutle and North Fork Toutle rivers.
With the inconvenience of a family holiday out of the way, archers and musketmen remain preoccupied trying to make the most of the last few weeks of the late deer and elk seasons.
In GMUs 568, 574 muzzleloaders can target elk with at least three points but the hunt is set to close on Nov. 30. GMUs 501, 503, 504, 505, 578, and 652 will remain open through Dec. 8 with (at least) three point and antlerless elk both legal for hunting. GMUs 448, 454, 564a, 666, 684d will be open through Dec. 15 for any elk, and GMUs 601, 618, 651, 658, 667 will be open that same duration for elk with at least three points. One outlier area that will offer extended opportunity is GMU 407 which will be open through Jan. 20 for any elk.
At the same time, archers are able to stalk ungulates in multiple areas including Elk Area 4601, and GMUs 503, 505, 506, 530ad, 652 (except Elk Area 6013), 663, 667, 672, 681, and 699d for three-point minimum or antlerless elk through Dec. 15. The season will run the same dates in GMUs 448, 454, 564a, and 666 for any elk, while hunters will be limited to three-point minimum elk in GMUs 603, 612, 615, 638 (except for Elk Area 6064), and 648. Like the musket toters, archers will be able to access GMU 407 through Jan. 20 for any elk.
Anyone hoping to fill a black-tail tag has only a couple more weeks to make that happen. Of course that opportunity depends on them being able to operate a musket or a bow. In GMUs 437, 466, 510-520, and 524 and black-tailed deer are legal targets for archers through Dec. 15. In GMUs 448, 460, 506a, 530ad, 560, 572, 601, 603-618, 638, 642, 681, and 699d hunters have through Dec. 15 to take any buck, and any deer can be taken in GMUs 407, 410-417, 419-422, 454, 505, 564a*, 624, 627, 636, 648, 652, 654, 655, and 660-672 through the end of the year.
Likewise, any deer can be taken by muzzleloader in GMUs 407, 410-417, 419-422, 454, 504, 564a, 633, 666, 684d, and Deer Area 6020 through Dec. 15. Any buck can be taken during that same time in GMUs 448, 460, 501, 602, 621, 651, 654, 658, 667, and 673.
Although Thanksgiving is behind us now, there are still opportunities to put a gobbler away in time for a Christmas feast or just to fill the chest freezer. Wild turkey hunts will remain open in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186, through the end of the year but all other areas will remain closed until spring.
Black bear hunts are all wrapped up until the spring permit hunts begin anew but hunters can still take cougars through at least the end of the year. Once we switch out the calendars WDFW will make a decision on hunting opportunities based on harvest data for each hunting area. In areas where cougar harvests remain below the quota hunters may be able to continue pursuing big cats through the end of April.
With big game opportunities growing scarce, more and more hunters are turning their sights toward waterfowl. Goose hunting is ongoing in Goose Management Area 3 (Lewis and Skamania counties) and goose hunts resumed beginning Nov. 24, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays only, in the inland portion of Goose Management Areas 2 (Cowlitz, Clark and Wahkiakum counties). The coastal section of GMA 2 in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties were open through Dec. 2 on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. If you prefer to pop pellets into duck, snipe or coot then the law says you have until Jan. 27 to keep on keeping on.
Up in the elevated woodlands forest grouse season will remain open through the end of the year and quail hunts will continue in western Washington through the end of the month. Prospects for quail and grouse are best in the timberlands of the Willapa Hills and the western Olympic mountains. Pheasant hunts are an easier drive for local hunters and the general season in western Washington will continue through the end of the month. However, several release locations will stay open into December. Those release sites include Fort Lewis, Scatter Creek and Skookumchuck wildlife areas. Pheasant drop-off spots also exist in East Lewis County, out Lincoln Creek, and near Brady.
Bobcat, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbits, and snowshoe hares are all legal hunting targets until March 15. And, as always, coyotes find themselves in the crosshairs all year round. However the devil dogs can’t be targeted at night while big game hunting seasons are open.
Trapping season began on Nov. 1 in Washington for beavers, badgers, weasels, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter. Those animals can only be harvested through legal trapping methods and the snare season will remain open through the end of March.
The most recent round of razor clam digs wrapped up on Sunday and Winlock School District administrator Boyd Calder reported to the FishRap command center that he couldn’t resist the call of the ocean’s succulent bivalves even with turkey leftovers plugging up the fridge. According to Calder the digging was leisurely and rewarding at Copalis last week and he was off the beach with a full bucket in about 15 minutes.
WDFW coastal shellfish manager Dan Ayres offered some perspective for the Thanksgiving weekend digs via email.
“This was the first time in almost 20 years that have we offered a dig on Thanksgiving Day itself. However, some public input we decided to give it a try and you’ll see we had 2,400 very happy diggers out that evening working off their turkey dinner,” Ayres wrote. “It looked to me like the day was going to be a weather bust. I was with my wife’s family in Puyallup and it was raining cats and dogs, but when I talked to my crew on the beach they reported clear skies and diggers getting easy limits. And the size of the crowds grew considerably on Friday and Saturday with well over 6,000 diggers out each night.”
The WDFW went ahead and approved the next round of coastal razor clam digs after marine toxin testing confirmed that the shellfish are safe for human consumption. That four-day set of digging tides will take place on the following dates, tides, and beaches:
Dec. 6, Thursday, 6:01 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 7, Friday, 6:40 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 8, Saturday, 7:16 p.m.; -0.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 9, Sunday, 7:53 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
There is one other set of razor clam digs proposed for the rest of the year but those are contingent upon another round of marine toxin testing closer to the actual digging dates. Those proposed clam tides would be on the following dates and beaches:
Dec. 20, Thursday, 4:51 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 21, Friday, 5:35 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Dec. 22, Saturday, 6:20 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Dec. 23, Sunday, 7:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis
Most notable about that second set of digs in December is the one-day opening proposed for Long Beach. If approved that dig would break a long spell of beach closures on the self-proclaimed “World’s Longest Beach.” A bout of disappearing clams due to a bout of low salinity has been blamed for the persistent closures.
“We have a one day harvest opener planned at Long Beach for Saturday December 22. It’s a good tide (-1.4 feet at 6:20 p.m.). If the weather cooperates, we should get a good look at how much clams are grown across most of the beach and that will inform plans for future openers,” explained Ayres.