Archive for May, 2015

All about Kid Fishing Derbies

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 29, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

Buckle up. We are now one week away from Free Fishing Weekend.

This is important, because on June 6 and 7, no license will be required to fish or shellfish in any open waters in the state. Nor will vehicle use permits be required during the weekend to park at DFW’s water-access sites. Other rules, however (size limits, bag limits, season closures and so on), will still be in effect. License or not, you will still be required to have and fill in a catch record card for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut caught on that weekend. Not a big deal, really; the cards and fishing rules pamphlets are available free at sporting goods stores and license dealers. The rules are also available online at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm.

The most significant thing about Free Fishing Weekend is that Saturday is traditionally the day for two long-standing kids’ fishing derbies in Kittitas County.

The Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby (from 10:00 ‘til Noon) happens at North Fio Rito Lake. There, you will find abundant prizes, fun and laughter for kids 14 and under – and a pretty enjoyable morning for the adults who bring them. Dale Defoor has been managing this event for the Kiwanis for a number of years, and will gladly share details at 509-929-0449.

For an Upper County kid adventure, it will be hard to beat the Annual Easton Kids Fishing Derby (also 14 and under) at Lavender Lake, sponsored by Cle Elum Ranger District and Cascade Field and Stream. Registration starts at 6:30 Saturday morning, and the fun part runs until it is over. (Lavender Lake is that lake right at exit 74.) At this derby, prizes will be awarded in age groups, and participating in activities at five stations – ranging from fish anatomy to habitat – will get kids into a free raffle for more prizes. Find out more from Mark Bennett at 509-670-1464.

I occasionally have a moment of great inner struggle over kids and fishing and fishing derbies and life lessons. That is rooted in a kid fishing derby experience of a decade and a half ago.

The instructions said “Do not start fishing until 7:00 a.m.” We had Edward, last of the Hucklings, on site at 6:55. There were a couple dozen lines in the water, and the first fish had already been registered.

The derby was for kids 14 and under, of course. Adults could cast lines and bait hooks, but fish were to be hooked, played and reeled in by the kids.

As we walked to a likely fishing spot, we passed by a dad and a granddad holding and baiting two separate rods, with one very small kid looking a bit lost. They explained that they wanted to make sure he would always have a rod ready to go and not suffer any “down” time.

I watched half a dozen dads casting, hooking and bringing in fish. I watched a couple of them step on others’ kids as they cast over, and across, the lines of about anybody in the way. Frustrated, Edward observed that there was plenty of room, and asked me why the man with the two little kids just down the shoreline kept casting both their lines over his, which was straight out. “Maybe because you caught some fish,” I suggested, “and he thinks your hole is the only one in the lake with trout in it.”

Eventually, the guy’s two kids got to handle the rods themselves and other dads relaxed as well. Increasing numbers of little boys and girls actually got to hook and bring in some nice fish.

By the appointed quitting time, most adults had surrendered. The kids – some laughing, some smiling and some clearly confused – were the only active fishers. Looking around, I figured a few fishers were born that morning.

As we drove away (and for years after), I mulled over our fishing and outdoor future; if kids learn fishing as competition, where are we headed?

A few weeks after that derby, Edward, his two older sisters and I pulled into the McCabe Pond parking lot and started some serious fishing. As the morning wore on, Edward was getting skunked, but always one to make lemonade out of lemons, he took up the cause of stirring his sisters to bigger and better fish dreams. When Anna’s rod started twitching, she grabbed it and set the hook. Whatever was on the other end almost took the rod from her little hands. Over the next twenty minutes, the critter on the line triggered startled squeals of delight as it yanked away. Edward cheered Anna on. The two-foot fish finally thrashed its way into the weeds at our feet. That five-pound-plus channel catfish didn’t like being released any better than it had liked being caught. As mud flew and kids slipped and laughed, we created an ongoing family legend.

A friend once observed, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!” This is probably more true today than ever.

Take a kid fishing. Check out a fishing derby. Even with all the incongruities of human behavior, it is still as good as life gets.

About Getting Kids to Camp

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 22, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

What started the flashbacks was a conversation at a recent Kittitas County Field and Stream Club Board Meeting. You know, no doubt, that the club is again sending a couple youngsters to the Washington State Youth Conservation Camp on Orcas Island. The lively round-robin discussion about how and when to select the kids – and open the door to all that fun on Orcas Island – swept me clear back to summer camp at Lake Wenatchee.

I loved the sing-along games, the fires, the dips in the ice cold lake, and the canoeing. I still smile about laughing until we couldn’t laugh any more. Somehow, my dirt-poor parents managed to get me out of East Wenatchee every summer. They even managed to fake happiness as they helped me pack for a week or two away.

A decade later, I was enrolled in big-kid camp – the US Air Force – as the Youth Conservation Camp was being established out on Orcas Island. Today, 63 years later, that Orcas Island camp is more important than ever.

In those Lake Wenatchee summer camp days, I was as free as a soul can be here in Earth School. I lived outdoors. If I needed fresh air and sunshine, someone had the door open. And no parent thought much about my whereabouts until a couple hours after dark. We live in a different world these days.

Even here in Paradise, our mostly-urban kids spend a lot of their time inside fenced or visual yards. Still, they are our future; in charge of the earth on which our descendants will depend. We have to keep finding ways to get them outside with a purpose – to encourage that.

All of this is behind the work the Field and Stream Club has been doing to establish the Washington Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. And it is exactly why the Washington State Youth Conservation Camp has been around for more than sixty years; every year enriching its tradition of outdoor play, outdoor learning and experience, and starting life-long friendships.

The Camp’s statement of intention goes like this: “Our natural resources are an important and often neglected part of what has made America great. The degree to which they are protected and restored will depend upon the steps we take to teach the facts of resource use and conservation to our youth. Full enjoyment of the outdoors requires a variety of skills and knowledge. Conservation Camp strives to offer a wide range of class experiences to benefit our campers and pass on this knowledge to future generations.”

This year’s classes will include hiking and outdoor survival, wildlife and habitat management, fly tying and casting, ecology and water safety, firearm and archery safety, wilderness first aid and leadership/teamwork training. During the week, campers will experience wildlife and the wilds of Orcas Island, with free time for swimming, sports, boating and hanging out with new friends.

The Pierce County Sportsmen’s Council has long sponsored the non-profit, all-volunteer, camps. Help also comes from the Friends of the NRA and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Other groups, such as our Kittitas County Field and Stream Club, sponsor youths annually.

The boys and girls Conservation Camps happen at Moran State Park on Orcas Island, for kids at least 12, and not more than 16 years old, at camp time. Camps are seven days long, during the two full middle weeks of July. Tuition is $300.

Field and Stream Club will pay tuition for one county boy and girl for this July’s camps. While their families are responsible for getting them to the drop-off point in Anacortes, the Club may be able to assist if needed. To be one of the youngsters heading to this summer’s camp, a boy or girl simply must email a 200-word essay on “Why this camp is important to me” to admin@kittitasfieldandstream.org by May 30 (a week from tomorrow). At the June 8 club meeting, two campers will be selected from entries received. Check out www.washingtonconservationcamp.org to find everything you want to know about the camp and its offerings for youth.

Encourage a youngster to get to camp. This is fun and important; It’s about our outdoor future.

Adventures Chasing Big Flat Fish

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 15, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

Tuesday morning, somewhere around 3:30, Homey Kirk Johnson, his sons-in-law Ben and Morgan, and I met up with new friends Mike and Paul at the door of Captain Don Davenport’s Ocean Sportfishing (www.oceansportfishing.com) office on the waterfront in Westport. We would pay for our day on the ocean and walk down the pier to board the Rock-n-Roll. We would run to the halibut flats and then chase ling cod and sea bass.

The Rock-n-Roll is a “six-pack” boat – the smallest in Captain Don’s fleet – one of a handful in the marina which only takes six fishermen out onto the big water. This is a great adventure, in several ways.

On the plus side, the boat is faster than any of the larger boats, so we fishers leave port later, and get to the fishing ground earlier, than other boats. Because of the small number of fishermen, the boat will generally limit earlier than the bigger ones, and move on for other fish. It will often be the first boat back in the marina at day’s end. This leaves us with great stories to tell.

On the other hand, that “small and fast” stuff can make for a bumpy ride in choppy seas. Last year, the fast and very bumpy ride to our outstanding fishing took a toll on a couple of our fishers, including our dashing young Captain Steve “Need for Speed” Connally. Over the off-season, Captain Steve had the hull on the Rock-n-Roll deepened so that it might cut through more waves and fly off fewer. Tuesday’s weather promised to put the new hull to the test. Brisk winds were kicking up six to eight-foot waves with very short wavelengths. Translation: steep, frequent and pointy waves almost guaranteed to make a dicey trip to the halibut flats. With that in mind, Cap gathered us and deckhand Clel Perez for a serious conversation and a group decision.

We could fish inshore, in quieter water, find plenty of sea bass and maybe a handful of ling or halibut. We could head out to the normal halibut flats, taking the weather as it is. We might luck out with settling water by the time we got there, and if the waves and chop were just too much we could head inshore for the first option. If we could manage the halibut grounds and get our flat fish, Cap would get us to his ling cod structure in much smoother water. Somewhere in there, we could pick up a pile of rockfish – sea bass.

After a half hour or more of looking at the options – and listening to the weather reported by the big boats already heading out – we opted to head for the halibut flat; 5:00 a.m. There was never a concern about the safety of the boat and us fishermen, the whole issue was the rough water getting there and keeping lines in the right spot once we made it.

It was almost immediately obvious that the work to deepen the Rock-n-Roll’s hull was a big improvement. Through mile after mile of rain and wind and steep and deep waves, and Captain Steve’s work at the wheel, the boat generally slid from wave to wave, with only moderate slapping.

On two occasions, however, a sharp wave slipped under us so quickly that we hit the water with a hard “bang” reminiscent of a year ago. In one of those, Kirk slammed into his seat hard enough to hurt his previously-repaired spine.

We reached the halibut flats as the wind and swells settled down a bit. Kirk acknowledged his pain and showed us how to wrestle a halibut off its feeding grounds more than two football fields deep. He cheered on his sons-in-law and the rest of us as we filled our limits with 15- to 30-pound flatfish. He made himself as comfortable as possible as Cap made the smoother run to his ling cod honey hole and its much quieter water.

Over the next two or three hours, we caught eight- to 12 pound lings and black cod and sea bass. At one spot, the canary rockfish – a protected species – were so plentiful that we moved on to another structure. We all caught lings, although I had the hot hand this day and brought in six of them. Kirk somehow kept his sense of humor and his ability to keep moving. We finished the day with limits of halibut and lings, and enough cod and sea bass to go around, and headed back to Westport.

In port, we grabbed a bite to eat, gathered up our fillets, and thanked Captain Steve and Deckhand Clel for a good day on the water. Once everything was on ice, we loaded up for trips home.

For my money, it was a fine day of fishing; nobody got seasick and we all caught fish. The worry that still hangs in my mind is Kirk’s back. The guy is always honest – he was in big pain – but he’s not a complainer. The summer will not be the same if he is not fishing. He promised to get checked out, and be ready for our next adventure ASAP.

So begins our 2015 big fish adventure season.

The NRA, The Foundation, and A Safer Tomorrow

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 8, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

When I was a kid, millions of us were in NRA (National Rifle Association) certified shooting programs. Every week, through match seasons over several years, The Old Man dragged me and my kid brothers to the NRA range in East Wenatchee. There, with most of our friends, we fired thousands of rounds of .22 caliber ammo under safe and controlled conditions. He always said it was his job to make sure we were safe around the firearms with which we were having so much fun. The NRA made that possible.

I have found through the last 60 years that “NRA” is always an interesting conversation.

A few years back, I was talking with one of my colleagues about the upcoming Kittitas County Friends of the NRA banquet, and its support of the NRA Foundation for firearms safety training, local shooting facilities and other programs for all ages across America. Somewhere in there, I mentioned my strong support of the Second Amendment and training in safe handling of firearms for every kid and adult in the country.

My colleague – my friend – got pretty worked up listing tragedies involving firearms in the hands of unstable people. To his mind, the firearms were the problem. After stating his dismay at my support for firearms rights, he played his trump card. “You’re an ordained minister, for God’s sake,” he said. “How can you support these ‘firearm rights?’”

His question swept me back to a warm sunny day in 1991. The Colorado Legislature was debating a bill to limit the ability of some churches to practice their religions as they saw fit, and deny them recognition unless they met some new standard. A couple hundred of us were on the street outside the Capitol, representing denominations and practices from Wiccan to Catholic. I had just returned from a trip to St. Louis and a series of interviews with NRA officials. I had just been hired by the NRA to fill the newly-created field representative position in Denver. I would finalize the paperwork in Washington, DC.

One of my Homeys heard that I had accepted the NRA Field Rep job and moved out of his place in our picket/protest line to rag on me about the job. His initial comments, as I recall, were pretty similar to those of my colleague, above. The NRA, as he saw it, was the greatest evil on the planet, and to work with them on behalf of firearms rights – even if my job was more about education and safety training – clearly put me in bed with the devil himself.

As he wound himself up, others gathered. When he paused, I asked him why we were all in the street. “It is our right,” he said, “and these guys are messing with our First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice!” I finally asked, “So, what is the Second Amendment?”

“It’s that gun stuff,” one of the women said, “but it’s only for the army, but a lot of people disagree.” That debate raged on ‘til someone dragged out a copy of our Bill of Rights (the first ten of our 27 Constitutional Amendments). “Okay,” Homey finally said. “So it’s a right, but we don’t have to support it. It’s not why we are here. Let’s get back to business. And,” he looked at me, “you really ought to be thinking about your priorities…”

As he turned, I said, “So, it’s okay to stand for religious rights, but wrong to stand for the right to bear arms? I can’t help but wonder why religion and bearing arms are the very first two amendments to the constitution that frames our lives and protects our freedoms. I don’t think we are here to pick and choose the freedoms we think are worth supporting. That’s a dead end. Don’t we have to stand up for all our rights, if we expect to keep any of them?” He paused, and sighed, “Yeah, okay, I can’t argue that. I just never thought about the NRA as some kind of ally – that’s weird…”

As it turned out, Wayne LaPierre reorganized the NRA before I went to DC to finish paperwork. We never opened a Denver office. And I still think that the key to maintaining our rights and freedoms is training people to handle firearms wisely, not to get rid of them.

Tomorrow is our local Friends of the NRA banquet. In partnership with many others, it will support ranges, equipment and safety training. No more than half the money raised will go to meals and production costs, and all net proceeds will go to qualified local, state and national programs. In 2013, Washington State raised nearly $440,000, with half of that coming back to shooting safety and training in our state (almost $20,000 in Kittitas County). The rest went to help national programs such as Eddie Eagle (teaching firearm safety rules to youngsters), Y.E.S. (Youth Education Summit), and other educational and safety shooting programs. See for yourself at www.nrafoundation.org.

Plenty of people are still conflicted about firearms and the “NRA.” Not long ago, a colleague and I were talking about guns on campus. She stared at me. “The NRA? Oh, wow, scary… I don’t know about them!” After a moment, she said, “Oh, by the way. Do you know where my daughter and I can learn to safely handle a handgun?”

What would happen to firearm accidents and firearms violence if safety and marksmanship programs were required of every kid in the United States?

There is a seat for you. Bring your 40 bucks to the door of the Teanaway Room at the Fairgrounds after 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. It’s our future. Come play.

Looking for Love in the Springtime

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 1, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

About this time every year, one or another of the lonesome, pleading for love, bird rituals gets under someone’s skin.

Over the past few springs, it has mostly been the persistent drumming of the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus, a.k.a. the red shafted flicker). Four years ago, homeys Ken Matney and Joanie Taylor were musing about the flicker turning their house into an acoustic instrument. For the two springs after that, it was our turn. Last spring, the house of one of our neighbors became the drum of choice. By June, we all hoped – to no avail – the birds would give themselves headaches, but no chance; skull cushioning protects their little flicker brains from tap damage.

People swear it will drive them crazy, but I have yet to witness it. (Other than that time in Denver when Bob and Jan went nuts over the drumming on the outside of the wall above their pillows, but they had other issues.)

At any rate, that rhythmic, Morse-code-like tapping on houses or trees is a key part of the birds’ survival process. This drumming for love will happen on anything that makes a sound the birds like. So far, males are mostly just checking acoustics. Shortly, they will drum for territory and run off other males. Then, the serious love drumming starts. With a good solo, a male will draw a female into a duet. If she likes the guy and his territory, love will bloom as they chisel out a nest cavity in which to make more little drummers.

This year, it has been the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura, a.k.a. turtledove, rain dove and American dove). For some reason, our end of town seems particularly desirable territory for dove pleading, mating and nesting.

While I have always enjoyed the mournful call of a male seeking company, others apparently do not. A nephew was helping with the rebuilding of our berry beds, as a male took up residence in a nearby copse of willows. He became increasingly agitated as we worked in a part of the raspberries, and I asked him what was going on. “It’s that #$!@ bird,” he said, “and its hour after hour begging. I don’t know how much more I can take. When will he shut up?” I assured him that as soon as a female or two showed interest, he would switch to his best and most seductive flight maneuvers – very noisy diving followed by graceful circles. Once love finds them, they will settle into nest site selection, mutual feather preening and nest building. And, they will still be cooing and talking.

If you have been walking along the river, you were likely stirred or startled by the noisy early spring pairings of Branta canadensisour Canada goose. This spring, it seems, their paired-off trips along the river and to and from nearby ponds have been loud and boisterous. I have watched and heard these springtime rituals in Kansas, on the Colorado plains and over mountain lakes high in the Rockies. The Hucklings still laugh about a late spring camping trip to Chambers Lake, northwest of Denver. Every morning one goose chased another up and down the lake with an urgent, piercing, “car-uunk, car-uunk, cur-wahnk.” At some point teenager Edward could take no more of the love-struck pleadings of that Canada goose, and yelled “Oh, for crying out loud, just say ‘Yes!’”

Check out our striking red-winged blackbirds – Agelaius phoeniceus – the most common birds in North America. After wintering as far south as Costa Rica, they are back in cattails and marshes all over our valley. Some males showed up as early as January to stake out their territories. Now, in full courtship display, the male drops his wings, showing off his red and yellow shoulder patches. (Studies, by the way, indicate that these “epaulettes” help establish dominance and breeding order.) While showing off his wings, he will tip forward, spread his tail, and sing his finest song.

The little California quail (Callipepla californica) boys are staking out turf and calling girls on all sides of us. From dawn >til dusk, we can hear that passionate “chi-CAH-go, chi-CAH-go.” In East Wenatchee, I grew up bathing in that call through a thousand warm spring days. Uncle Sam took me to other places on the planet, and after 35 years away from Paradise – and these quail – I found myself lecturing in a communication class in old Black Hall. On a warm spring day, through an open window, that call stopped me in mid-sentence. The students seemed to understand (it was about communication, after all). As the girl quails now agree to set up housekeeping in their territories, the boys will use a similar call to warn off intruders, and we will enjoy it all summer.

This is important stuff. We humans are not that unique among the species pairing up around us. Walk across campus, or any gathering area, and watch the strutting and bowing and moves of young men attempting to capture the hearts of the young women around them. It’s about the future of species – and making more.