Tomorrow’s Hunting & Fishing – Part I

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 12, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

I have been picking the brains of folks whose job it is to figure out where our hunting and fishing is headed. And what can – or must – be done to prepare for the changes coming. Much of my last – and very interesting – week was spent at the O’Loughlin’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show at the Expo Center in Portland, Oregon.

Discussions involved owners of saltwater and freshwater fishing outfits, reps of state and national wildlife agencies, and some of the people involved in putting on – and continuing to put on – the various sportsmen shows we chase this time of each year. While individual perspectives vary a bit, as you might expect, the overall outlook was surprisingly uniform.

It may be useful to look at fishing and hunting futures and changes separately, and then consider approaches to our overall outdoor future.

The future of ocean fishing, in the eyes of the Pacific Northwest ocean charter owners was summarized repeatedly as “more cost, less opportunity,” particularly as it comes to salmon. Reasons given included increased state and federal regulation, changing and varying ocean temperature patterns, severe predation from sea lions, cormorants, and pikeminnows, and growing concern for the well-being of Pacific Coast orcas.

Coastal conservation groups and charter associations are working increasingly with federal and state regulators to find solutions – particularly in those situations in which protected species like sea lions are heavily impacting threatened and endangered species like salmon. The newly-appointed director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Aurelia Skipwith, spent a day during last weekend’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland speaking with fishing and hunting industry representatives and the public about the role of her agency in streamlining regulations and working for a sustainable future for the fishing and hunting with which she grew up. The agency, she noted, was committed to supporting the role of fishers and hunters in conservation – and to remembering that conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife. There are a number of initiatives underway to protect and increase fish stocks while dealing fairly with the predators which must also be managed.

Determined to remain as viable businesses while all these issues are worked to restore salmon and steelhead seasons, limits, and availability, charter operators are increasingly marketing abundant bottom fish such as sea bass and lings, and various seasons for both catch-and-release and catch-and-keep sturgeon.

In the meantime, sportsmen show planners, such as the O’Loughlins (owners of several shows in the West, including the Puyallup and Portland shows) are watching the ocean fishing efforts and noting new trends among the fishers attending their shows which may also attract new attendees. Over the last couple years, for example, as ocean salmon fishing has struggled, a significant growth is seen in surf fishing and kayak fishing (literally hundreds of folks lined up for advice and coaching at booths and talks during several of this year’s shows). In response to more limited inland river fishing for salmon and steelhead, a good many of the river guides are marketing trips for walleye and bass. The sportsmen shows are seeing an increase in marketing of fishing tourism on large inland lakes, and an uptick in interest in warm water fish such as bass, perch and panfish, along with the fairly abundant trout found across the interiors of Pacific states.

On the hunting side of things, conversations were even more intense. You’ve been hearing about the concern over dropping numbers of hunters across the country – and the subsequent loss of the revenue needed to manage wildlife – for some time. Maybe you saw the recent article in the Washington Post which focused on the impact of that diminishing number of hunters, and their dollars, on endangered species management. We will continue that large and looming conversation next week.

In the meantime, there are groups in which we are seeing – and will see – significant growth in hunter numbers. The fastest growing of them is women. In surrounding states, and several others, fish and wildlife agencies and private groups now offer special workshops specifically to train women in finding, getting and caring for fish and game animals. Our Washington Outdoor Women (WOW) group is a prime example. Several states are noting something that our local Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Basic Hunter Safety course instructors have seen for some time – half and more of their students are women and girls. The O’Loughlin group, and other sportsman show producers are hiring and recruiting women leaders and speakers, who are attracting increasing numbers of women to hunting and fishing. And with them are coming more kids and youth than in many years.

More young urban adults are suddenly wanting outdoor lives that include game and fish. How they are being recruited, and supported, is very different than how many of the rest of us found our paths into hunting and fishing. That fascinating process, and a lot more about our changing outdoor world, when we continue this next week.

See you in Yakima this week, at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show, where some of the face-to-face “future” conversation continues.

Big Water Fish – DeVar’s Tale

Written by Jim Huckabay on February 5, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

About this time of year, we wander the alleys and aisles of the regional sportsman shows immersed in offers of hunting and fishing trips we have long dreamed of taking. Those outdoor opportunities and fantasies await only our decision to go (and maybe a buck or two). As we feel spring rising before us, we particularly think about fishing. Thus, now, we begin seriously planning our ocean halibut and bottom fish adventures, and spring trips for the salmon heading up our rivers.

DeVar Gleed offers a look into one of those springtime ocean fishing trips – a trip with his buddy Gary and Gary’s brother-in-law Captain Roy – and takes the reader along. The judges were pretty sure you would enjoy his entry into this year’s Inside the Outdoors Writing Contest.

“I hadn’t been saltwater fishing for three years, so I was super excited when my buddy Gary called and asked if I could go fishing. Captain Roy had called him and said, ‘If the weather holds I’m going after halibut and rockfish and have room for two.’ He wouldn’t know until a few days before, to make sure conditions are right. Captain Roy’s a true saltwater captain – made from the same cloth of Captain Rob who Jim Huckabay wrote about back in 2013. The stars aligned – the call came – and off we went!

“The trip from Ellensburg to the fertile waters off La Push, Washington, (out on the far west side of the Olympic Peninsula) wasn’t a short one. We left shortly after work at 7pm, drove over Snoqualmie pass, through Seattle, rode across on the ferry, and drove around Crescent Lake to the mysterious town of Forks.

“The plan was to park and sleep until 4am. Unfortunately, we woke Captain Roy up when we arrived. He couldn’t get back to sleep…so two hours later we were on our way to the docks. We stopped to gas up at the all night mini-mart. This was a true fisherman’s mini-mart: Fried foods piled high for customers…at 3am! (They’d be sold out by sunrise.) We were one of the first on the water. Now this is the most important lesson I’ve learned when going saltwater fishing: take one Dramamine walking down the dock to the boat! Nothing ruins a great fishing trip more than sea sickness. (I speak from experience!)

“30 rough miles later we were fishing 800 foot water for highly coveted halibut. Going that far down you want to make sure that EVERYTHING is right. Your weight, bait, etc. This isn’t cast and retrieve fishing. When halibut fishing you discover long lost muscles in your arms and back.

“Okay, I know the Good Book says to not covet. But as rods and reels were being handed around Captain Roy’s looked suspiciously nicer than the rest of ours. I knew it was when he attached a cord to the battery. An electronic reel! My repentance process for breaking that great commandment still hasn’t happened. Wow – what a reel. He caught the first halibut and what a beauty (I mean the reel)! Sure, Captain Roy had to hold the rod and fight that fish – but the reel did half the work. It brought the fish in, fought it with a pre-set drag setting, take line in, let a little out, and so on. I’d never seen such a reel – and I coveted.

“We each caught a back-breaking halibut – what a prize! One of the best eating fish out there.

“We went after rockfish on our way back to La Push. Now, Captain Roy has a very nice fish finder – but I could not for the life of me tell how he knew where the fish were. The ocean floor topography looked the same to me wherever we were. But he’d yell ‘Put ‘em down!’ And we’d catch rockfish like mad! Two at a time. Then we’d drift off the bite. He’d go back to his chosen spot and yell again – and again we were on fish. We came in with limits of halibut and rockfish.

“Back at camp Captain Roy taught us all how to fillet halibut.

“A good night’s sleep in Gary’s tent that rivaled the Taj Mahal was what I needed – even if it was only four hours of shut eye. 4am we were on the water again for another glorious round of saltwater fishing. The whales, pod of dolphins, sunfish and albatross are always a bonus.

“I’m grateful for good friends, captains crazy enough to go 30+ miles into the ocean, and the bounty we enjoy in the beautiful waters of Washington State.” DeVar Gleed

And here’s to each of us enjoying our own unique and joyful outdoor adventure in the months ahead.

So, what really lies ahead for us and our fishing, hunting and shooting outdoor lives? I have been picking the brains of several gurus from the season’s regional and national sportsman shows – folks who spend their time and money looking beyond today. The changes coming in our outdoor play will not necessarily be bad or too difficult to manage, but they are significant. I figure you and your family would like to know what this 21st Century is bringing, too, so next week I will pass along what I have learned. Stand by…

Last Moment Elk

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 29, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

How often did your mom or dad remind you that waiting until the last minute to do something was foolish and always had a price? Over the decades. I have discovered that – even if you start early – taking until the last moment to accomplish something does, indeed, have a price. It will likely be well worth it, but there is a price.

I could probably cite several examples, but a couple Washington State end-of-late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunts are currently in my head.

A decade or so ago, I got an early fall start on the elk damage season in Paradise, but was pulled away to deal with various family issues. Once I found time to resume looking for a fattened-on-some-rancher’s-haystack cow elk, there were precious few days left in the damage hunt ending on 31 December. The days slipped by without finding the elk which were raiding haystacks at night and disappearing into the hills before first light.

Dawn of the 31st found us watching 40 elk a mile up a steep draw above Cooke Canyon north of Ellensburg. Six inches of fresh snow lay under still, clear, 5-degree air. “Okay,” I said. “I think I can get on them, but that’s a long way up in bitter cold, and a long way back down with a big lead cow. How is that going to happen?” “No problem,” partner said, “we have permission here, and we can get the four-wheeler up to it.” Thus began a very long and very cold stalk.

A bit over two hours later, I was able to make a good prayer and a perfect shot on the cow that seemed to be in charge of the group. I was atop a ridge overlooking Cooke Canyon, a mile down below. Cell phone confirmation of the downed elk met with “Oh, actually, we can’t get the four-wheeler to that spot… Just drag it down to the canyon and I’ll meet you there with the truck.” I was hard pressed to move the big field-dressed cow even on the snow and downhill. As luck would have it, a younger master hunter – for whom sainthood awaits, I’m sure – volunteered to climb up and help. Somehow, in that bitter cold and snow, we got the elk to the bottom by mid-afternoon.

The price? Sheer exhaustion, and frostbit toes and fingers that continue to be pretty sensitive to very cold temperatures, no matter how well clothed I might be. Worth it? Of course…

A bit over a week ago, on January 20, 2020, the late-season master hunter permit elk damage hunt on the U.S. Army’s Yakima Training Center ended. Homey and fellow master hunter permit holder Wee Clogston and I have been actively pursuing cow elk on the Training Center for a time now. These are elk which, early in the fall, raid crops in Badger Pocket and move before daylight up onto the Army ground. Later in the fall, they are moving onto and off ag ground to the south, and often drifting across traffic on I-90 above Vantage.

This was one of those seasons during which we were able to spend some early fall time on the Center, but then sidetracked until late November. In mid-December, we were able find elk and I filled my tag. Wes’ elk suddenly became an almost impossibility. Over a number of trips, we found the elk harboring in a central Impact Zone – off limits to hunting – and not venturing out.

Once off-and-on snowfalls began, we were able to find where a few elk were moving, but were unable to actually locate them. Over several unsuccessful (other than always enjoying being on that amazing 325,000 or so acres of federal ground) January hunts, the 20th began to loom larger. Thus, predawn of the last possible day of the late season, we checked in at the gate.

Morning was a repeat of our previous trips. On a hunch, we said more prayers and moved up to the area where we might find any elk who had recently crossed over I-90 in the recent snow. A couple other master hunters reported seeing elk and tracks, and one fellow was on his way back to a draw to help his buddy extract an elk. Things were looking up.

We found fresh tracks and tried to figure out where the elk went. As probably every hunter knows, when you are scanning big country there are myriad bushes and rocks that look just like elk and deer (“rock elk,” “bush elk,” etc.) – until you get binoculars on them. On the other hand, when you actually see critters, you know instantly. Suddenly, there they were.

We worked our way around to get ahead of them, and Wes took off on a stalk. They were moving away and he had no shot. After a couple more unsuccessful sneaks, we moved to where we thought they might be and Wes headed for the edge of a deep draw. Through my binoculars, this time, I watched him shoot down – way down – into the draw. It was just before 1 p.m.

By the time we figured out where we were, and I had hiked back to the truck, returned with the game cart, and had his young cow loaded and secured to it, the afternoon was waning. We were burning daylight.

Somehow, we horsed that loaded cart three-quarters of a mile up out of the bottom of that snowy draw to the top, then made the quarter-mile downhill to the truck. We closed the tailgate on the tagged and loaded elk about the time it went full dark.

Price? Two exhausted hunters in their seventh decade of hunting. Worth it? Duh…

Hmmm… When does NEXT season end?

The First 2020 Outdoor Adventure Writers

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 22, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

The judges of our Annual Inside the Outdoors Adventure stories thought you might enjoy a couple tales which won passes to the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in Yakima. The first comes from Dale Emken of Cooke Canyon, northeast of Ellensburg, and the second is by Ellensburg’s Dwight “Lee” Bates.

The Golden Eagle Rescue

“For years we have watched a pair of Golden Eagles ride the currents above our canyon. Our spirits soar with them as they slowly circle hunting for small mammals or perhaps just enjoying the view.

“The Friday after Thanksgiving as my husband was plowing us out from the latest snowstorm I was walking along Cooke Creek in back of our house when I spotted a Golden Eagle trying to take off from the deep snow. It was soon apparent that the huge snow balls hanging underneath him hindered his efforts. Time and again he would flap his large wings only to move his body slowly up the trail, then pause exhausted. Sure death awaited him for as cold as the day was the snow would not melt.

“By this time my husband had joined me to watch and marvel at our first close view of this majestic bird. Having never rescued an eagle we called the Ellensburg Animal Hospital for advice. They said that if we would bring the eagle in they would rehabilitate it. Right, two old people were going to go pick up and eagle, put it in their car and take it to the hospital! They suggested that we call the State Wildlife department who would come out for the eagle. It was the middle of the afternoon the day after Thanksgiving. No one at the wildlife department was answering the phone. The onus was back on us. I called the hospital again. They suggested we use a blanket and gloves – very heavy gloves.

“Gloves on and blanket in hand we slowly approached the eagle who just lay, wings outstretched, watching us, exhausted. The first toss failed. On the second my husband quickly wrapped the bird and picked him up. There was no struggle then or all the way into town. In fact we were afraid that he had died. However once he was uncovered in his cage in the hospital his bright eyes showed him to be very much alive if not moving.

“The following Monday as we were leaving to go visit him we spotted his buddy perched on the rock outcropping at the end of our driveway looking for him, perhaps. Luckily we were able to catch Dr. Michael Fuller in between patients. He reported that x-rays showed no broken bones. But the bird was suffering from a dietary deficiency. Apparently, easily obtained junk food is a bane for animals as well as humans, even if it tastes good.

“This great adventure has a good ending. Last we heard the eagle was on his way to Benton City where he will finish his rehabilitation before release to again soar in our skies.” Dale Emken

The General Meigs Shipwreck

“In 1968, my wife and I drove to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to camp at Shi Shi Beach. We wanted to see the General Meigs shipwreck and we camped right next to where the wreck was hung up on the beautiful rocks.

“It was hard to sleep that night because the loose boiler kept thrashing around inside the ship. It was an old World War 2 troopship which broke the towline as it was being towed to San Diego to be scrapped. With no time to reattach the towline in the storm, it went up on the rocks at Shi Shi Beach. (We were told by some hikers that a scuba diver was killed the day before on the wreck when exploring it.) My wife Diane took a photo of me sitting atop a lifeboat that had washed ashore.

“Twenty-eight years later, in 1996, my brothers, their kids and I backpacked into Ozette and camped on that beautiful beach. When I got to our campsite I ate a couple sugar cookies and set the box down on the picnic table. It disappeared. I saw the thief, a raccoon, peeking out from the brush. (Later we caught the mother raccoon and her two kits stealing food, so we hung it up in a tree.) We caught and ate a lot of surf perch. One was huge and I said it probably would set a state record, but my brother wanted to eat it. We did. I later found out that it would, indeed, have been a state record.

“When hiking about a mile south of our Ozette campsite we discovered a lifeboat wreck sitting on the beach. I recognized it as the General Meigs lifeboat I had seen on the deck of the ship in 1968. It had washed 10 miles down the beach. The General Meigs shipwreck is now gone, taken by the harsh weather. It was neat to see the lifeboat 28 years later, although only the frame and the engine were left.

“We in Washington are lucky to have the Olympic Peninsula and its miles of pristine, beautiful, and discovery-rich beaches.” Dwight “Lee” Bates

 

About Feral Cats – One More Time

Written by Jim Huckabay on January 15, 2020. Posted in Uncategorized

You may have seen Janelle Retka’s piece from the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic inside the front cover of this rag on 7 January. The headline read “Struggle to keep up with feral cat population in Yakima County.” This is an ever increasing problem – in hundreds of communities across the US and the world. Yakima City Councilman Jason White was quoted as hoping that incoming City Council members would help “create systematic change” to how the problem has been handled. Sadly (in my science- and observation-based opinion), the majority of the article was devoted to local TNR (trap, neuter and release) programs and the need for more “heaven sent” volunteers to catch and release ever more neutered cats.

I have written about this “issue” (feral and free-roaming cats and their impacts on birds and wildlife) a time or two in the past. My Ellensburg Daily Record column of 3 October, 2003, triggered local emails and phone calls to cat fans scattered far and wide, suggesting that I (a college professor, of all things) was urging kids to shoot cats. That wildly erroneous information engendered several rather vitriolic letters to the editor of this rag from across the U.S. and as far away as Europe and Hawaii.

Be that as it may, there are literally hundreds of stories and studies regarding the damage done by unattached cats. One from 2008 had to do with a cat and dead bats in a neighborhood near Mill Creek, Washington. Seems that, as moths came in at night to feed on blooming yuccas, bats swept through to feed on the moths. The neighborhood free-roaming cat simply waited under the yuccas and nailed the bats. The neighbors, who all put out food for the cat, were skeptical of the findings of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists until they sat up and watched the cat kill a couple bats. As has been found in any number of studies, the cat was well fed – the killing was not for food; the dead bats were simply left on the ground. (The cat was then adopted by a family which promised to keep it inside.)

The American Bird Conservancy, as part of its mission to protect native birds and their habitat, launched Cats Indoors! a couple decades ago. This in response to what is, today, some 100 million feral or free-roaming cats in the U.S. killing as many as a billion birds per year. (A 2013 report based on the work of scientists at the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year.) On the Conservancy’s website (www.abcbirds.org), are pretty comprehensive feral cat discussions under links to “Threats” and “Solutions.” The Conservancy posts this statement: “Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is advertised as a tool to reduce feral cat numbers. Unfortunately, TNR programs have been shown to fail to reduce feral cat populations while simultaneously maintaining feral cats on the landscape, where they contribute to wildlife and public health risks.”

Some writers, including Audubon Magazine writer, and widely respected environmental journalist Ted Williams, have even described TNR as a “dangerous, cruel…practice.”

If you are truly interested in a larger – and well-documented – picture of the issue of feral cats, I recommend that you read a July 3, 2018, piece by Joan Meiners (Twitter at @beecycles). Joan was an Ecology PhD candidate at the University of Florida and a summer environmental reporter for NOLA.com. She was working under a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Find her “15 reasons science says feral cats are a disaster” at www.nola.com/archive/article_eb5c5aae-d596-552f-995d-6dfbe87ce68f.html.

Documentation follows each of these “15 reasons:” 1. Feral cats are ecological serial killers (a 2013 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute found free-ranging, domestic cats (mostly unowned) to be the single largest human-caused threat to wildlife); 2. Feral cats kill for fun, abandoning dead animals that become food for more rats (cats are “surplus killers” – they kill more prey than they eat); 3. Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion songbirds every year; 4. Outdoor cats kill at least 6.9 billion mammals per year, most not rats; 5. So where does the idea of cats as rat killers come from? Ships in the 1800s; 6. Jack Russel Terriers might be better at killing rats anyway; 7. Feral cats decimate the primary consumers of mosquitos and other insect pests; 8. Cats are the top carriers of rabies among domestic animals in the US; 9. Cats spread toxolasmosis; 10. The parasite in cat poop stays in the soil for a long time; 11. Living with cats during childhood has been linked to increased risk of schizophrenia; 12. Exposure to feral cats could make you a bad driver, or a poor student; 13. Food left out for feral cats likely feeds city rats, too; 14. Outdoor cats are overwhelming not only wildlife, but animal shelters; and, 15. Studies suggest most trap-neuter-release programs don’t reduce cat populations

Whatever your perspective, consider the voices of thousands across the country asking that cats be kept inside, or confined or on a leash when outside. This is a time of year when birds, especially, are highly vulnerable while feeding and surviving.

Then, too, studies have shown that cats kept inside live longer.