The first gun smoke of Autumn will drift across eastern Washington sagebrush flats and westside alder thickets on Sept. 1, as statewide dove and grouse openers lead off 2014 hunting seasons. Prospects are mixed, as usual, but the situation this year has been complicated by the record acreage charred by summer wildfires.
Don Kraege, migratory bird manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the agency has been banding doves for five years, and that the populations at most of their banding stations have held relatively stable over that period. Dove numbers are generally so positive, in fact, that Kraege said WDFW will probably lengthen the season from the current 30 days to 60, and the daily limit from 10 to 15 birds, prior to next year’s hunts. The changes, he said, would bring Washington up to par with the other states in the Pacific flyway.
The weather this spring was conducive to multiple hatches, and fires probably didn’t have a major impact on the dove population. Kraege said exceptions would be burned grain fields and/or roost trees at the edges of agricultural areas. Generally, he expects the Columbia Basin to provide a dove hunt similar to the past few years.
Jon Gaillie, area biologist for Chelan and Douglas counties, said dove populations in his venue could be down slightly from last year, because numbers at his banding station showed a small decline. But there were still plenty of birds and in their usual places, he said.
Biologist Scott Fitkin, in Okanogan County, said the big Carlton Complex fire impacted doves in some of his game management units short term, such as the popular Unit 239, Chilliwist, and that there will almost certainly be access problems, with flash flood damage to roads, downed trees, and other hazards.
The grouse picture is a little less rosy. State upland bird manager Brian Calkins said the grouse harvest around the state — except perhaps for the Olympic Peninsula — has been declining for several years, most likely due to habitat change and loss of hunter access. This year the crucial spring brood period experienced little cold or rain, so the general outlook is not bad. Not great, but not bad. Traditionally, Calkins said, Chelan and Okanogan counties have been the top grouse producers on the east slope of the Cascades.
Wildfire damage? “We don’t know yet the long-term picture, but short-term I would estimate 30 percent of the eastslope grouse habitat was probably affected to one degree or another.”
Gallie said the Mills Canyon, Chiwaukum Creek and Duncan fires in his area (Chelan and Douglas counties) “were hard on grouse,” and that hunters should look for higher-elevation wet draws and more heavily forested areas. Bird populations there are generally okay, he said.
Fitkin (Okanogan County) said he doesn’t feel grouse in his area were impacted much by the fires, because the broods were old enough to fly. But he said, along with Gallie, that upper elevation areas would probably be the best places to hunt.
Research may be critical for a good hunt, this year more than most. Call the WDFW Region 2 office in Ephrata at 509-754-4624.
The Hanford Reach fall chinook fishery isn’t really underway yet, but Don Talbot at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee said keep your eye on the counts over Bonneville, and when they reach 10,000 daily, it’s time to start thinking kings at Vernita (the Vernita Bridge, a popular boat launch between Hanford and Priest Rapids Dam). Right now, the counts are running 3,000 or 4,000 per day.
Early spots, Talbot said, include the water off the mouth of the Yakima River, off the Ringold Hatchery upstream from the Tri-Cities, and a mile below Priest Rapids Dam where kings stack off the hatchery creek.
“At the Yakima, they troll downstream with a Fish Flash/herring rig,” Talbot said, “and at Ringold they’re trolling with Super Baits. In three weeks or so they’ll switch to eggs or Kwikfish.”
Talbot said his favorite early area is the holding water below the dam, off the hatchery stream, where bright kings can already be caught — an advantage with a run of chinook which traditionally darken quickly as they hit the Reach.
One more item: Talbot said folks in his area are excited about a new book scheduled to be out soon, written by an experienced Columbia River salmon guide and detailing exactly how, where and when to fish the Hanford Reach. Check with the tackle shop at 509-663-0740.
Fall is a good time of year for those folks who like to fish moving water to hit the smaller streams feeding the Methow River system, often in combination with a hunting/camping trip. Streams such as Eightmile, Falls and Boulder creeks, tributary to the Chewuch, hold large populations of small eastern brook trout which WDFW would prefer to have caught and kept. The Chewuch, Twisp and Methow rivers are usually good for cutthroat and rainbow.
But not this year. Fire damage and runoff from heavy rains have muddied all these streams to pretty much an unfishable condition. State biologist Ryan Fortier said “Falls Creek really got toasted; Boulder and Eightmile are out of shape, and the Methow is as dirty as I’ve ever seen it.”
All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said it’s perhaps a week early for any significant coho action in local waters. He did hit a few fish off Edmonds over the weekend — one decent ocean fish and the rest 3- to 5-pound residents — fishing over 300 feet of water, down 50 to 80 feet, with a green squid/flasher setup. Nothing much happening yet at the shipwreck or other usually productive spots, he said.
Buoy 10 and southwest coast
Salmon action is still improving at buoy 10 on the lower end of the Columbia, according to WDFW biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. Checks over the weekend, he said, showed almost one chinook and one coho per boat on Friday; two-thirds of a chinook and one coho per boat on Saturday; and three-quarters of a chinook and over 1 coho per boat on Sunday. The fishery has been drawing 300 to 350 boats per day, Hymer said.
Wendy Beeghley, coastal sampling coordinator for WDFW, said last week was probably the peak of the ocean fishery off the southwest coast, and that there were over 500 boats fishing out of Ilwaco on Saturday.
“The fishery put out mostly limits for everyone on Saturday and Sunday,” Beeghley said, “about 80 percent coho.”
Charters also took mostly coho out of Westport over the weekend, while private boats caught a 50-50 mix of kings and silvers, with the coho going up to the low teens.
Fall chinook fishing below Bonneville remained slow as of Aug. 24; anglers continue to take summer run steelhead at the mouth of the Wind River, although most were wild fish and had to be released; some 80 percent of boat fishermen at Drano Lake caught a summer steelhead, but about two-thirds of the catch was composed of wild fish which had to be released, along with a scattering of fall chinook; Tacoma Power recycled 200 summer steelhead downstream on the Cowlitz, from the trout hatchery to the I-5 boat launch.
Fish and Wildlife personnel continued this week to search for and remove up to four wolves from a pack that has killed at least 22 sheep from a flock grazing in southern Stevens County. A federal wildlife agent contracted by WDFW killed one wolf on Aug. 24. WDFW has confirmed that wolves from the Huckleberry Pack — estimated at 12 animals and named for nearby Huckleberry Mountain — have killed 22 sheep and injured three more in six separate incidents, despite an array of preventive measures employed by the department and the livestock owner.
WDFW and the owner of the flock of 1,800 sheep have moved the animals away from the scene of the original attacks and are trying to find a new grazing site far from the area near the town of Hunters, 50 miles northwest of Spokane.
For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.