Recent stormy weather has been a bonanza for waterfowl hunters, on both sides of the Cascades.
On the Skagit Delta, Wednesday’s wind, rain and snow provided top shooting on all three of the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s major Skagit Wildlife Area units, according to area manager John Garrett.
“The Lequi Island (just west of Stanwood), Headquarters (southwest of Conway) and Samish units are all puddled up nicely and offering good decoy shooting possibilities now,” Garrett says, “particularly with weather like we had this morning (Wednesday).”
Pass shooting on windy days is always a good bet, at any of the wildlife area’s access points on the bayfront, Garrett says. Ducks from Samish and Padilla bays are using the planted grain on the Samish Unit well (just west of Bow/Edison on the south edge of Samish Bay), and on the planted island segment near Headquarters.
Most successful snow goose hunting has been on the Lervick farm, south of Stanwood, Garrett says, and he warns pheasant hunters that the Western Washington pheasant season ends Friday.
Duck hunting in the Columbia Basin started off even better than last year, says Marilyn Meseberg at MarDon Resort on Potholes Reservoir in Grant County, mostly on locally produced birds. Since then, however, it has been a little spotty.
“Shooting has been very good on some days, not so good on others, even though, traditionally, our best hunting comes after Thanksgiving,” she says. “We haven’t seen any northern birds yet, and things should definitely pick up when those flights start coming in.”
The Meseberg Brothers Duck Taxi service (1-800-416-2736), providing transportation and blinds on the reservoir, is in operation again this year, and the Mesebergs have added a large, leased cornfield near Royal Lake.
“It’s a really nice, wood-lined pit blind setup,” Marilyn Meseberg said, “and the guys will take hunters to whichever venue – the lake or the cornfield – they feel will produce best. This snow today (Wednesday) should improve the field shooting everywhere in the basin where there are cut cornfields to draw birds.”
Steelhead: Saturday marks the unofficial start of winter steelhead season, and nobody takes it more to heart than those die-hards who will be out at midnight Friday, with lanterns and glo-balls, to fish the switchover on the North Fork Stillaguamish from flies-only summer rules to winter all-tackle regs.
“Friday night’s the night at Fortson for the annual lanternfest,” says river guide Tom Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org), and with the weather situation and the early fish showing elsewhere, there should be good numbers of summer-runs there and enough winter hatchery brats to spice things up.”
Nelson says local steelheaders should remember that the smaller streams drop and clear more quickly after a deluge than do most of the larger rivers. “Matter of fact, the Sultan and Wallace have been putting out relatively good numbers of winter steelies, for this time of year, and on Saturday you can add the Pilchuck to the list,” he says. “Another possibility, almost always, is the Skagit above the mouth of the Sauk.”
Bob Gooding at Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said the winter steelhead season has begun there perhaps better even than last year’s good start. Top rivers, as they usually are, have been the Bogachiel and Calawah, where early-returning hatchery fish are the target. A lot of rain Tuesday and Wednesday, however, could put the rivers out for this weekend, Gooding said.
Anticipated poor returns of wild steelhead to the Skagit, Snohomish and Stillaguamish river systems has prompted the state to require release of all wild fish caught beginning Saturday. A decision on a possible March season on the Skagit won’t be made until some time in January, according to state steelhead program manager Bob Leland in Olympia.
River salmon: Don’t give up on salmon in the rivers, says Arlington resident and river guide Sam Ingram (S&S Guide Service, 360-435-9311) just because winter steelhead are starting to show. Ingram says fresh chums are still available on the Skykomish, well scattered from Monroe down to the Lewis Street takeout in Monroe.
In fact, he says, right now offers a good chance to hit both species. He went out Saturday, when the yo-yoing river dropped in for a few hours, and pulled a bait diver with sand shrimp, looking for steelhead. What he found was a bunch of chums to 15 pounds, the majority of which came still equipped with sea lice.
“They’re hanging on the softer side of the river in this high water, though,” Ingram says, “instead of the deeper slots where you usually find them.”
Speaking of Ingram, he is taking on the job of trying to represent local river salmon anglers – a group pretty much not heard from in the season-setting process and a group which thus receives only the leftovers from annual salmon allocations. Ingram has placed signature sheets at most area tackle shops and he asks interested river salmon anglers to sign. He’ll then take the signatures to the “North of Falcon” season-setting meetings with the feds, state fish agencies, tribes and commercial fishermen, and lobby for a larger share of the available fish.
“We need everyone’s signature,” he says, “and if you have a specific river, species, and season you’d like to see in place, I need to hear from you.”
Ingram’s phone number is 360-435-9311. He probably can’t return long-distance calls, so keep trying.
And while huzzahs are being handed out, another round to Doug Olson and other members of the Everett Steelhead and Salmon Club, who have “seeded” the Snohomish watershed this fall with more than 54,000 pounds of salmon carcasses.
“Research shows that spawned-out salmon carcasses left in the streams are more beneficial than those sold by the state for cat food,” says member Tom Nelson. “Doug researched a similar program on the Keough River in British Columbia as part of a cooperative effort with the WDFW to increase the productivity of our Snohomish County streams.”
Saltwater: The last weekend of the early winter blackmouth season locally was a good one, particularly since wind was a bother off and on. State checks at the Port of Everett ramp Saturday and Sunday showed 200 anglers with 52 chinook, averaging 6-7 pounds. The season closes Friday, to reopen in mid-February.
At Cornet Bay, the check was five anglers with three chinook, averaging 9 pounds. At Anacortes it was 23 anglers with three chinook, averaging 10 pounds, and at Bellingham, 14 with four, averaging 9 pounds.
Clams: The next recreational razor clam dig on the coastal beaches will be Dec. 13, 14 and 15, with the lows as follows: minus 0.6 at 5:27 p.m. on the 13th; minus 0.7 at 6:13 p.m. on the 14th; and minus 0.7 at 6:56 p.m. on the 15th. Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks are open for digging on the first two dates, joined by Kalaloch on the 15th.
Authorities are warning diggers that drifting logs from a huge barge spill off the Oregon coast early this month are coming northward and could pose a hazard for surf recreationists in the weeks ahead.