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Hunting Big Tuna with the Pacific Tuna Whisperer

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 8, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Last weekend was the family’s sixth Labor Day Tuna Adventure in Ilwaco. We have a fine habit; every year we chase tuna with Captain Rob Gudgell on the Katie Marie (named after his daughter). In February 2012, I met Milt and Sarah Gudgell (Rob’s folks) at their Pacific Salmon Charters booth at the Central Washington Sportsman Show in Yakima. How do you explain that instant sense of meeting an old friend for the first time? I don’t know, either, but we were immediately into tuna talk, and within a few minutes, I’d signed on for several family albacore tuna fishing spots aboard the Katie Marie. That first year was so much fun, that I have reserved the whole boat (ten fishers) on each Labor Day Sunday since.

Every year is different. That first year, we brought 88 tuna aboard, filling the boat. The next year, we ran out of time at 50 fish – but all bigger than the first year. The following year, we worked to get nearly three fish apiece. In year four (2015) family and friends descended on Ilwaco from as far away as Los Angeles and Denver, but exceptionally stormy weather kept us from reaching the tuna schools – we turned back about 12 miserable miles out. Last year was rainy, but manageable, and 70 25- to 33-pounders filled the boat. This year looked like a shipwreck, for a little while.

Each year, we have filled the Katie Marie with family and close friends/homeys. This year, a week before our big Labor Day weekend trip, there were only six of us. By Thursday, we were down to five. In a couple cases, a father or other family member was very ill. In another, end-of-career work tasks took precedence. For another, some sort of ethical dilemma arose.

Last-of-the-Hucklings Edward drove up from LA a couple days early, picked up brother Jonathan at the Portland airport and they started up Mount Hood for a night on the ground before our fishing. Just as they started up Thursday evening, Ed got a text from his stunt coordinator (he is a stunt double for characters on Fox’s “The Mick”). They came off the mountain, Ed caught a flight back to LA, worked the 12-hour stunt gig until about Midnight Friday, got back on a plane to Portland, Jonny picked him up, and they were waiting at the Ilwaco campground when we arrived Saturday afternoon.

Turned out others were eager to join our trip with the Tuna Whisperer of the Pacific. When all was said and done, five of us aboard would be family and five would be other cool people.

We assembled at 3 a.m. Sunday morning and filed aboard the Katie Marie. About 20 miles out onto the Pacific, Cap explained that the wind and chop were getting worse by the moment; even if we could get to the tuna schools, which he doubted, it would be too rough to fish. Amidst a fair amount of angst, mixed with gratitude for knowing that Captain Rob would keep us upright, we headed back to the Ilwaco Marina. We reached port at 7:30, with a second chance; we could get back on the boat Monday morning for another run at the ocean torpedoes. After long debate and discussion, son-in-law Brian opted to stick with our normal Monday return for work.

Thus, Monday morning at 3:15 a.m. Edward, Jonathan, Cousin Dave Yount and I joined four other second-chanchers and headed west under full power. Cap, Deckhand Nathan and Co-Captain Loyal ran through the normal safety drill, reminded us about how to catch tuna with live anchovies, and joined us in a silent prayer for a calm, smooth day and plenty of tuna.

It turned out to be as perfect a day as I have ever experienced on the Pacific: light winds and off and on sun, with just enough chop to remind us that we were on a rocking (and sometimes lurching) boat.

The tuna hunt was a challenge, but this was not Captain Rob’s first rodeo. He did, after all, introduce live anchovy bait fishing for tuna in 2002, changing the tuna charter culture in Ilwaco. He has an intensity and determination (and an eye for swarming birds over leaping baitfish) that leads him to schools of big tuna no matter how scattered they are. He is the tuna whisperer.

About 8:30, someone finally yelled, “Tuna!” In moments, Cap had everyone at rods. He circulated with live anchovies, cajoling and pleading, “Watch your lines! Edward, follow your fish – if it goes that way, go with it! Go under Dwayne… Dave! Go over Jonny and duck under Jim! Come on people, pay attention! No tangles! Don’t cross lines – don’t let anybody cut your line! Don’t lose a fish! Nathan, get the net forward! Come on, get that fish on board, then bait up and get back out there! Hey! No slack line – no bird nests on your reel! Pay attention guys! Keep your footing! Over! Under! Follow that fish! Square up with your line!” …And, thus, we lived in organized chaos for a time as we drifted with school of tuna. They were beautiful, large, strong fish, too, from 25 to 35 pounds. That school disappeared.

We watched for baitfish and sea birds, and an hour or so later, we did it again. Then again. While we never hit the big school, we headed in with 33 very nice albacore tuna.

It took two tries to hit this year’s near-perfect day of tuna fishing. A bit convoluted, a bit incomplete without the whole family gang, a lot of patience and faith.

Perfect.

[Huckabay with the smallest of the day’s tuna…]

HAMS, Wildfire & 100 Mile Runners

Written by Jim Huckabay on September 1, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

An outdoor interest, and a passion to get people onto the ground and outdoors, can cast a broad net.

Last weekend the 19th annual Easton-centered Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run happened – through smoke, the nearby Jolly Mountain forest fire, and afternoons above 90 degrees. Over the past years, I’ve coordinated the ham radio operators, and Rich White has coordinated the run itself.

This is a big deal. Along with a couple hundred of Rich’s race and aid station volunteers, there were more than forty of us licensed ham radio operators helping track runners and avoid (or handle, if necessary) any emergencies. Over the weekend, hams and other volunteers spend anywhere from six to 36 hours scattered in groups along the 100 miles of ridge and valley trail. We do this because it is fun to play radio communications, and it is an honor to support men and women determined to find their limits.

Normally, the race is a +/-100 mile loop from the Easton Fire Station, reaching up over or along Goat Peak, Stampede Pass, Meadow Mountain, Kachess Lake, Thorp Mountain and Silver Creek. The course passes through some 15 aid stations with aid workers and ham operators to help track runners. This year, because of the Jolly Mountain fire, access to almost half of the remote aid stations was impossible. Thus, Plan B – send the runners out halfway and bring them back along the same trail.

This meant that the aid station crews and hams normally along the second half of the course would be “folded back” to man the earlier stations which now became later stations. Our aid station crew (Captain Terry and wife Dolores, Reed and wife Sue, Jason and Scott, with Diane and me handling the radios) has worked Mineral Creek (mile 74) for years. With the folding, our crew would become Tacoma Pass #2 (mile 80). Once the runners had passed the first Tacoma Pass station – sometime around 4 p.m. Saturday – we set up the second station for their middle-of-the-night-and-next-morning return trip. A bit disorienting for most aid crews, yes, but manageable.

The overnight Tacoma Pass station (that was us) was a zoo. Runners began coming back through a bit after midnight and continued until the last couple trickled in 13 hours later. This meant that many runners’ support teams were showing up at wee hours. Wild celebrations occurred as certain runners came through our station – joyful, yes, but challenging with keeping track of runners and aid station workers trying to get a bit of rest during the long night. Somehow, our experienced aid station team managed, and we lost no one in the various shuffles.

As you might imagine, attending an aid station and radio network over 20 some hours, awaiting the arrival of one or another of the hundred and a half runners on the course, leaves moments for cool experiences. Turns out that our aid station was located on the Pacific Crest Trail as it crossed Tacoma Pass road. Therein lies the proof of what my father – The Old Man – often said about Central Washington: “Sit here long enough, boy, and the world will come to call.”

At odd moments, at least 10 hikers in full backpacking gear passed through our station – all but one headed north. Imagine their surprise as they stepped out of the heavily timbered trail and into a festive set of tents and shelters with chairs, food and drink, smiling faces, and a big sheet birthday cake for Reed and August birthdays.

A young American couple had been on the trail since late spring. A middle-aged couple – husband from El Salvador and American wife – had begun hiking north in Mexico in March. A thirty-something Finn had come to the US to hike the Cascade Crest and had been at it for two months. A similar aged Japanese man also had a couple months on the trail. A middle-aged couple from Austria had started at the Mexico border in early May, and a young American guy was 200 miles into his 500 mile walk. Some opted to find a camping spot nearby and joined us for an evening and morning bite, and others moved on up the trail after a snack or drink and a brief conversation about their travels, hopes and intentions.

On Sunday morning an older man hiked out of the woods, noted that he’d been out for weeks, then smiled and said, “No thanks!” to offers of food and cake. I was recording a runner’s arrival, and glanced up to see him pausing at the other side of the Tacoma Pass road, foot raised to step onto the northbound uphill trail and back into the woods. One minute later, he was sitting in a chair, smiling broadly as he lifted a fork full of birthday cake.

There is great value in supporting men and women determined to go full out – determined to get past a personal block, to make some new connection with life – and maybe with the earth itself. Each of us, at some point, breaks through something that resists us, to find and explore the limitations of our bodies and minds. So much of this happens outdoors, on the ground.

164 hopefuls signed up to run the 100 miles. Something just under 120 finished the race, with the others dropping out at various stations along the course.

Fire could be seen from a couple of the higher spots along the trail, and smoke obliterated everything at moments. Temperatures were well above those experienced during past Cascade Crest 100 mile runs, reaching well over 90 degrees Sunday afternoon through the last few miles back to the Easton Fire Station. We experienced no emergencies during the race, and no one collapsed or got lost. It was another great and safe outdoor weekend.

Thank you hams and volunteers.

Thoughts about Good Shooting and Fall Prep

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 25, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It is that time. To be ready for upcoming fall hunting seasons, we now get serious about checking ammo supplies, status of reloading gear, condition of firearms and availability of time and location of places to sight-in our hunting firearms – or to just go squeeze off a few rounds. (Some of us get really serious about squeezing off “a few rounds” – more on that, later.)

We spend a lot of time practicing with our firearms and ammo (as do our bowhunting buddies with their bows and various arrows and broadheads). We do this to ensure that, when we are given an opportunity to make meat, we are able to do so quickly and humanely.

At the range – when we are testing those combinations of bullets and powder – we may debate such things as the best way to ensure accuracy at various ranges. I will hear about rangefinders and modern rifle scopes which will take the guess work out of any shot at any range under any condition. And I will simply follow the guidance and wisdom of the late Jack O’Connor. He assured me that the rifles and ammo I shoot ought to be sighted in to hit three inches above dead center at 100 yards, so that the bullet will strike within three inches above or below the point of aim anywhere out to 300 yards. No doubt, this will be cussed and discussed, but it has not failed me for 65 years, so… Ultimately, each of us wants to know that the tools we use afield will perform exactly as we expect them to perform. Thus, we practice, and practice.

The “where’ of our practice can be challenging at times. The Cascade Field and Stream Club range on Hayward Hill is a fine range for club members (and most anyone may join, of course). A good many of us will go out onto Durr Road, in the Washington State Wenas Wildlife Area and shoot during the sunrise to 10 a.m. time now allowed. Others may have other safe places to shoot. Outdoor range options for us all will likely expand once the Wenas Shooting Advisory Group completes its recommendations to DFW.

A good many of us developed our shooting interest and skills at indoor ranges as youngsters. You are aware of the Kittitas Valley Rifle and Pistol Club (KVRPC) and its annual indoor Light Rifle Class League here in Paradise. This 16-week winter league gives families an opportunity to bring their favorite .22 caliber rimfire rifle (or .17 or larger serious air rifle), and ammo, and have an evening of safe fun putting little holes in paper. The club provides regulation 10-bull NRA targets, a modern heated range facility, the direction of a qualified range master and coaching as needed/desired. Friends speak of the league as a terrific chance to discover (and rediscover) the joy of safe recreational shooting and of watching a kid or grandkid develop skill and confidence. Those lifelong skills, honed at a local range, can take people places.

Meet Erich Mietenkorte, local shooter and Vice President of the KVRPC. Erich recently returned from a trip to Fort Steele, British Columbia. What took him to Canada was the 2017 Canadian National Rifle Silhouette Championships, hosted by the Bull River Shooters Association, between July 30 and August 5. The headline on the story forwarded to me by Hal Mason (another stalwart of the KVRPC) read, “Talented Yank Shines at Canadian Silhouette Championship.”

Erich has been active in silhouette competitions around the West for several years. He has some skills: at that Canadian Championship shoot, he took First Place in Master Standard Rifle, Second Place in Master Hunter Rifle, and Third Place in Master Smallbore Hunter. The first two events were shot at longer range with his .260 Bobcat (a 6.5×250 wildcat), and the third set of silhouettes was handled with his .22 rimfire rifle (known for its “wicked cool paint job and fighter plane graphics”).

(Find a variety of Erich’s photos and an interesting write-up at, bulletin.accurateshooter.com/2017/08/talented-yank-shines-at-canadian-silhouette-championship/comment-page-1/#comment-53247.)

So, Erich is one of those guys who get really serious about sending a few rounds down range. He annually puts between 5,000 and 7,000 rounds through his competition .22 rifle, and some 1,500 through his high power 6.5mm centerfire. Add in the other shooting he does, and he figures he squeezes off 15,000 to 20,000 rounds a year. That is serious shooting. It obviously pays off; last weekend, Erich won the Washington State High Power Championship over in Pe Ell.

You will have to excuse me, now. I have some preparations to wrap up, and some reloading to complete. Then, I think I will go find a safe place to squeeze off a few rounds.

(Personal photo, on Erich Mietenkorte’s cell phone…)

A Wedding and “Wild” Blackberries

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 18, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

We spent the weekend at Anderson’s Bambooland, just east of Monroe, Washington, nestled between U.S. Highway 2 and the Skykomish River. The wedding was perfect, thank you. Thus, as of last Saturday, my young ever-eager fishing partner – formerly known as Boyfriend-in-Law Brian – graduated to Son-in-Law Brian.

Upon completion of the ceremony and all necessary pronouncements, the wedding guests and party surrounded the now-all-in couple. As Katie and Brian mingled, glowed, laughed and caught their collective breath, more and more of their fans drifted toward the perfectly-chilled malt beverage tap and growing piles of the amazing food one finds at these celebrations.

Bambooland is known for its acres of fine flower beds, orchard, and bamboo plants. And, virtually everything on the property is surrounded by blackberry brambles – those ubiquitous, unstoppable, Himalayan blackberries. At some point in the post-ceremony festivities, Cousins David and Debby Yount asked when we would pick blackberries. After all, they surmised, Diane and I would have to pick berries for Daughter Tena in Denver anyhow, so why not make a party of it on Sunday morning? Done.

As they turned back to more pressing matters, one of the other guests asked, “So what about all these berry tangles? I hear these are native to the West Coast… and not. They’re everywhere. What’s the story? How did they get everywhere?” Thus, another gauntlet dropped and I was duty-bound to pick it up.

We have three “growing wild” blackberries in the state.

Our only native blackberry is Rubus ursinus, commonly known as the wild mountain blackberry or the trailing blackberry, with some calling it a Northwest dewberry or Pacific blackberry. Some maintain that the “ursinus’ part of the name comes from the fall bears fattening on them. This is not a sprawling tangle, it trails across the ground. Its berries are smaller and sweeter – more delicate – and not that shiny black. Mountain blackberry’s juice runs a bright red and its seeds are tiny. They seem to be most commonly found on burned- or logged-over slopes of our east Cascades and on islands along the west coast.

Our two non-native blackberries produce large, seedy, and delicious berries. Both were introduced as food plants and both are now considered invasive Class C noxious weeds. The lesser known plant is Rubus laciniatus, the cut-leaf blackberry or evergreen blackberry – native to northern and central Europe. It has deeply incised leaflets in groups of three along its long thick trailing stems. Our more common blackberry is Rubus armeniacus, the Himalayan blackberry or Armenian blackberry its rounded, fine-toothed leaflets are in groups of five.

Both plants are highly invasive and almost impossible to control. You can’t miss them: they form large, extremely vigorous thickets of long tangled, dense canes covered with long (very sharp and backward-angled) thorns. (Blackberries are in the rose family, after all.) Plants joyfully reproduce with new canes forming almost wherever an older cane touches the ground, and the roots almost constantly send out new suckers. In King county, both species are on the non-regulated noxious weed list. Control of them is not required because they are so widespread throughout the county and the rest of Western Washington. (Control is recommended in protected wilderness areas and in natural lands that are being restored to native vegetation.)

The backstory of these berries is as tangled as the thickets themselves. Ann Dornfeld told the tale on Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW, in August, 2016. At the end of the 19th century, Luther Burbank, a contemporary and friend of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, was determined to help folks moving west to easily grow local fruits and vegetables. Looking for seeds and plants which could take the rigors of rail and sea travel, he traded seeds with European colleagues and crossbred plants to produce those he considered to be best for certain areas – like the Pacific Northwest. His work in Santa Rosa, CA, produced plants like the Shasta daisy, freestone peaches and plums, elephant garlic and the potatoes most used today for fast food French fries.

Burbank worked to develop a thornless blackberry, but in a package he’d ordered from India was a huge, great-tasting blackberry. He called it the Himalaya Giant (now believed to have originated in Armenia). The blackberry grew like wildfire in temperate areas (that’s us). A mere decade after its 1894, introduction Burbank’s berry was moving across the Puget Sound region. It was soon known simply as “the Himalayan blackberry.”

Our Sunday picking? Well, true to form, we paid blood and skin for our many gallons of black beauties. (Best man Ed might have called it, “The cost of doing business in brambles…”) As the four of us worked our way down a long wall of thorny, fruit-laden Himalayan blackberry canes, various exclamations drifted by. I kept hearing “Wow, look at the size of these – Ouch!! Oh da#$@! – berries.” And “These are so – Ouch!! Ouch! – sweet and abundant! Ouch! Ach!”

Thank you, Luther Burbank. RIP…

Backyard Mountain Lions

Written by Jim Huckabay on August 11, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

You have, no doubt, heard that Brian Kertson, DFW’s carnivore research scientist, will be at Ellensburg’s Hal Holmes Center Monday evening. At 7 p.m. he will be talking about backyard cougars. This is fascinating stuff. You are invited.

You may recall Project CAT (Cougars and Teaching) – the early-21st-century alliance of Cle Elum/Roslyn Schools, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pacific NW Center for Spatial Information and a handful of other high-profile partners. Evelyn Nelson, Super of the school district at that time, grew up in a hunting and outdoor-oriented family in Carson, down along the Columbia. With a long-burning desire to get kids hooked on the outdoors, she grabbed the chance to partner with Fish and Wildlife biologist Gary Koehler to start Project Cat and immerse her students in science and nature.

Over several years, Project CAT put Upper County K-12 kids at the front of research into the relationships between people and cougars. Brian was one of the grad student researcher involved with Gary Kohler and other biologists. A great deal of the CAT research involved remotely tracking and mapping cat movements. There was (and still is, really) no shortage of cats in the Upper County.

As it all came together, Gary or students would find a track and the Montana “cat tracker” contractor’s dogs would find the cougar, which ended up wearing a rather sophisticated geographic positioning system (GPS) collar. That collar stored the cat’s location as it went about its life. Periodically, the data in the collar was downloaded to a computer, and students would map a particular cat’s schedule and locations, plotting its range and paths.

Other groups of students worked on most everything from track or prey identification to necropsies. (One seventh grade class cleaned and reassembled the complete skeleton of a collared young male which apparently died from injuries inflicted by an elk or two.)

From several handfuls of collared cats, as hoped by Superintendent Nelson, those Upper County kids learned some things.

A typical male cougar’s summer territory covered 136 square miles, with three females occupying 50-60 square mile ranges generally within his. On average, there was one dominant animal per 46 square miles. With near-constant dispersal of young adults, one or more transient cats were regularly moving through the Upper County. (Two young cats actually traveled south to the Columbia River Gorge and back – several hundred miles.)

Using that GPS data, the kids plotted lion kills, identified prey species and age, and knew how much time the cat spent feeding; 60% of prey animals were deer and 40% were elk.

It turned out that cougars DID take deer and elk in people’s backyards, but they didn’t hang around, sitting and waiting; they were always moving through their home ranges. Interestingly – and no surprise – it was obvious that, if people FED elk and deer, or created a sanctuary, they greatly increased the odds of having cats in their backyards and neighborhoods.

The kids’ GPS data showed lions all around us – in the hills and in our backyards. In fact, if you’ve been hiking in the hills or woods, you likely have been seen or watched by a cougar.

Cats are several million years old, and in the last 200,000 years cougars have become highly evolved predators. Pound for pound, they kill bigger prey than any other predators (a 100 pound female lion will take down a 500 pound elk). By the way, cougars don’t chew; their carnassial (adapted for shearing) teeth bite off chunks of flesh for swallowing.

Although the odds of a run-in are very small, most problem cats will be young vagrants looking for territories. Rules of engagement are simple: stop, stand tall and don’t run; pick up small kids; don’t break eye contact; be as large as possible (wave arms, hold up branches or coats); back away; pick up sticks and stones and fight back if attacked. Carry pepper spray. (Remember, Teddy Roosevelt called the cougar the greatest coward among the predators of North America.)

Funny thing about lions and people. Colorado wildlife buddy Bob Hernbrode often spoke of people and bears. Hear his words with [lion] replacing “bear.” “People who live in [lion] country will almost always tell you so. While it is sometimes presented as a warning, it is in reality an effort to describe some ephemeral value of the land. Most people will never see a [lion] in their mountains, yet the mere possibility of doing so imparts some vital uncertainty, mystery, danger, a need for respect, and greater depth to the landscape. We need [lions] in our mountains.”

We know a great deal about the backyard cats of Paradise. Brian Kertson has carried his work and research into the heavily-populated west side of our state. Thus, Monday night’s talk.

See you Monday evening at the Hal Holmes Center.