Archive for June, 2017

Yakima River Chinook Fishing – Finally!

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 16, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

The kings are coming! The kings are coming! Yakima Nation and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish pros are expecting 2,000+ harvestable Levi George (Cle Elum) Hatchery springers in the river – even though they are very late this year. As of today, the 20+ miles of the middle reach of the Yakima River is open for hatchery spring Chinook. This reach extends from the I-82 Bridge at Union Gap (river mile 107.1) to the BNSF railroad bridge about 600 feet below Roza Dam (river mile 127.8).

The fine print: Daily limit is two (2) hatchery Chinook, at least 12 inches long (legal fish are missing an adipose fin, with a healed scar in its location of the missing fin) and all wild salmon must be immediately released unharmed and never removed from the water; Use up to two (2), single-point barbless hooks with a hook gap (point to shank) of 3/4 inch or less; Bait is allowed and knotted nets may be used only in the river section open to salmon fishing; Night closure is in effect; For this fishery, the upper “closed water” line is moved up to the railroad bridge (just downstream of Roza Dam) to provide maximum opportunity to catch hatchery kings; Steelhead fishing remains closed; You must have a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement.

More fine print: Use two fishing rods during this fishery with your purchase of a “Two-Pole Endorsement” in addition to regular licenses; Fishing from boats with gas motors is allowed only from the I-82 Bridge at Union Gap to the east-bound I-82 Bridge (upstream) at Selah Gap (used for transport only above that bridge; All fishing closed for 400 feet above the upstream side of the Yakima Avenue/Terrace Heights Rd. Bridge in Yakima (including areas adjacent to, and downstream of, the Roza Wasteway No. 2 fish barrier rack by Morton & Sons; More info from John Easterbrooks, Regional Fish Program Manager at 509-457-9330 or Eric Anderson, District 8 Fish Biologist at 509-457-9301.

That’s the simple part – the fishery is open, as above.

The rest of the story is how this opener happened – and the team and science and thinking involved. It’s actually pretty interesting; we can both learn a few things here!

The process starts with the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Group – TAC – (this court decision predates the Boldt decision, relating to Washington’s salmon management). The TAC is administered from Portland and involves both states and the feds using a sliding scale for water conditions, salmon needs, and fish numbers. The members of the TAC monitor the various runs and provide ongoing in-season updates.

Our DFW fish pros (such as John Easterbrooks) work very closely with the Yakama Nation fish pros (especially Bill Bosch) and the Bonneville Power Administration to manage hatchery and natural-origin salmon based on the TAC data and agreements. Hatchery salmon are generally fitted with a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag, which identifies age and origin. If this salmon “team” was not working hand-in-hand, we would have no salmon to argue over in our part of the world.

Earlier this week, recalculations were based on returns through 12 June of various aged PIT-tagged Levi George Hatchery salmon at Bonneville. The results indicated that 2,400 to 2,800 fish would be moving into the mouth of the Yakima and heading home to the hatchery. The Lower Yakima has been open for a bit, but few salmon have been taken – conditions on the river have largely held the fish at the river’s mouth (with fishing limitations there to protect them). Finally, later than anyone expected, the River settled and the fish began moving past Prosser. Thus, today, the pros opened a two-hatchery-fish limit in the 20+ mile reach from Union Gap to Roza Dam. At this point, salmon fishing is open on every reach of the Yakima River under state jurisdiction!

You probably think we are fishing for fun and food. True, but we have a management purpose I’ve not considered. Fisheries pros want a ratio of 50-50 hatchery- and natural-origin salmon on the spawning redds above Roza Dam – and the more “natives” in the mix, the better. Our job is to remove enough excess hatchery fish to protect that ratio at spawning areas.

All those PIT tag and other salmon counts provide a fascinating insight into our fishing success on the Yakima. The ratio of hatchery to natural-origin fish at Prosser is 30-70. The ratio improves for hatchery fish as the season goes along and as the fish move up the river. Above the mouth of the Naches, it improves. At Roza, as the season progresses, you have a better that 50% chance of catching mostly Levi George Hatchery fish. The odds are highest at the point where both return counts and fishing participation drops off, and that is probably a month away.

Bottom line of all this is that, by the time these fish get to Roza, you have a better-than-coin-flip chance that the salmon on your line is a fat hatchery keeper. And those odds will continue to improve over the next few weeks.

Go fish.

Kids, Fishing and Derbies

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 9, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Well, here it is at last; Washington’s Free Fishing Weekend. Buckle up.

Tomorrow and Sunday, no one in your family will need a license to fish in any open water in the state. Here’s the small print (read it like that hurried description of side effects at the end of drug commercials): you need no state license, but size limits, bag limits and closures are still in effect. And you will also be required to complete a catch record card (available free at license dealers, and online at wdfw.wa.gov/fish/regs/fishregs.htm) for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or halibut you catch. This is also Kid Fishing Derby weekend.

Sadly, I now only have adults (Edward, last of the Hucklings, turned 21 years ago), and my Grand-Hucklings live too far away. Still, you can take your youngsters to one of a couple great fishing opportunities in Paradise.

Both of these kids’ derbies happen here in Kittitas County tomorrow (Saturday, 6/10), both are for ages 14 and under, and both have been happening for nigh on 30 years

The party at Fio Rito is the Annual Kiwanis Kids Free Fishing Derby. Registration and fishing starts at 10 a.m. and runs to Noon, for age groups of five and under, 6 through 10, and 11 through 14. Once upon a time, Kiwanis reared fish and turned them loose in local creeks for the event, but times – and rules – change, so Fio Rito it is. There are still cool prizes for the kids who come fish, though, with a bike, a fishing combo, a tackle box or travel gear for the top fishers in each age group. Every kid will walk away with some sort of fishing stuff – and probably some nice fish. Dale DeFoor has more info at 509-929-0449.

These fishing experiences touch people in many ways. Dale still tells of the child struggling with cancer who was excited to win an age group bike years ago. After he passed, his parents supplied bikes for other derby winners over several years. For young and old alike, fishing triggers a deep connection with Earth and Spirit.

The Upper County party is the Annual Easton Kids Fishing Derby on Lavender Lake (Exit 74 off I-90). This adventure has been co-sponsored since its inception by the USFS Cle Elum Ranger District and Cascade Field and Stream Club.  Registration starts at 6 a.m. at Lavender Lake, with lines in the water at 7. Prizes include fishing, camping and floating gear, and are given in each of several age groups. Other activities (fish anatomy, habitat, ethics, etc.) at several stations, will get kids into a free raffle for even more prizes. Mark Bennett will have info at 509-670-1464, but all you really must do is show up with your under-14ers.

This Easton Party always features appearances by Smokey Bear. Mark will tell you that some kids are a little unsure about it all, but most can’t wait to get a picture with Smokey – and still talk about it decades later. What a great way to kick off summer with kids!

These derbies can be great fun, but funny things happen when gangs of people get together to fish. And, as The Old Man used to say, “It ain=t all funny ha-ha.”

Near the end of the last century, I took eight-year-old Edward and thirteen-year-old Anna to a fishing derby at Hansen Pond (now Kiwanis Pond) near Cle Elum.

The instructions clearly said “Do not start fishing until 7:00 a.m.” We were there at 6:50. There were two dozen lines in the water, and the first fish had already been registered.

Adults could cast lines and bait hooks, but fish were to be hooked, played and landed by the kids.  As we walked to a likely fishing spot, I talked to a dad and a granddad holding and baiting two separate rods for the five- or six-year-old kid standing by. They explained that they wanted to make sure he would always have a rod ready to go and wouldn’t have any “down” time.

We watched half a dozen dads casting, hooking and bringing in fish. A couple of them actually stepped on their kids as they cast over, and across, the lines of anybody in the way. Frustrated, Edward noted there was plenty of room, and asked why the man with two little kids just down the shoreline kept casting both their lines over his, which was straight out. I allowed as how it was probably because he was catching fish. Then I suggested “maybe he thinks your hole is the only one in the lake with any trout in it.”

Eventually, the guy handed the rods off to his kids. In time, he actually let his boy and girl hook and land two nice truck trout.

By 9, the adults had pretty much surrendered, and kids were fishing, focused and happy. It seemed to me that a few fishers were being born. The Hucklings decided it was great time.

A friend once observed, “Teach a kid to fish and she’ll hassle you for more ‘til she’s grown and gone!”

Even the random nature of +/- sportsmanlike gang fishing is a good start to a fishing life. Take a kid fishing.

Swallows Bring Summer – and Eat Pests

Written by Jim Huckabay on June 2, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Based on conversations with several homeys over the past week or so, my recent garden experience is about normal for this particular year. Even at mid-day, I was finding that the mosquitoes would suddenly outnumber the weeds I was pulling. I found myself praying – begging really – for swallows. Thankfully, we are entering their season.

I love watching swallows – just off the water, dipping for insects or a drink – or most anywhere. I have, on occasion, been swept away at four-way stops, or stoplights, watching violet-green and cliff swallows sweeping and dipping (The Old Man called it “jitterbugging”) through and around cars. I may, sometimes, have been so enthralled watching them snatch up injured insects rising off warm hoods or grills that other drivers felt compelled to rudely remind me to move my rig.

In addition to our stoplight jitterbuggers, we commonly see tree, bank and barn varieties. (There are plenty of northern rough-winged swallows in Paradise, too, but we seem to notice them less.)

In these days of concern over Zika, West Nile and other mosquito-carried diseases, the swallows of Paradise take on a whole new importance. They will individually and collectively eat uncounted tons of mosquitos and other flying insects this summer.

Horse owners will often tell you, enthusiastically and with a touch of awe, about the mud nests on the walls of their boarding barns. They will probably even tell you about the birds keeping flying insects off their horses and foals. With a nod to the enthusiasm of Deborah “Bird Whisperer” Essman for these amazing and valuable birds, let’s talk swallows.

All six of the swallows we enjoy in Washington are elegant flyers with long, pointed wings, and (except for the cliff swallow) notched tails. We see plenty of barn (Hirundo rustica), violet-green (Tachycineta thalassina) and cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota). Along with tree (Tachycineta bicolor) and bank (Riparia riparia) swallows, there is a fair population of the northern rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis). They are all migratory birds.

Tree swallows arrive first in spring and head south last in fall, and are the only swallows to largely winter within the U.S.  (Most of ours winter along the Gulf of Mexico or southern California.) Flying insects make up most of the tree swallow’s diet, although more than any other Washington swallow, the tree swallow eats berries and other vegetative matter when insects aren’t flying. This allows it to weather cold spells better than other swallows, which thus allows it to winter farther north.

On the other hand, barn and cliff swallows have among the longest migration flights of any of our land birds – some actually winter as far south as Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America.

Tree swallows nest in tree cavities or nest boxes (especially near water) and compete – often poorly – with mountain bluebirds, flickers, starlings and others for cavities. Where nest boxes have been provided, their populations have increased.

In addition to cliffs (check out the Selah Cliffs Natural Area at the west-bound I-82 rest area by the Training Center), cliff swallows use bridges, culverts, and buildings near water for nesting.  Mud nests are bulbous affairs, stacked one on top of the other, with entrances on the sides, facing a bit downward. These colonial creatures make the most densely populated communities of any breeding birds on the continent; including as many as 1,000 or more pairs, each with its own gourd-shaped nest somewhere in the jumble.

Barn swallows are our most common urban-area swallows, living wherever civilization goes. Cup-shaped nests are made of mud plastered to the timbers of barns or other outbuildings.

Barn and cliff swallows are often observed carrying mouthful after mouthful of mud, then shaping it with feet, beak and body. This is work. One study found that a particular pair of barn swallows – to collect the mud and materials for their nest – made 1,359 trips, covering a total of 137 miles in a work period of six to eight days. It appears that they still take time to play (celebrate?), however, as many have been observed carrying feathers high into the sky, dropping them, and swooping down to catch them in mid-air before adding final touches to the nest.

Overall, swallow populations are healthy and increasing. This is good: few sights are more enjoyable than those flashes of orange, purple, green or brown in rapid, skillful flight around the bridges, overpasses, buildings, water and ag ground of Paradise.

Learn more about the sounds, nests, colors and lives of swallows from www.birdweb.org/, www.allaboutbirds.org, or a good field guide. Photos. Too.

As robins bring spring, so swallows bring summer – and help keep it livable.