When the chimney caught on fire I figured that would be the worst of it.
By the time I’d noticed there was already so much vomitus smoke and cracking up through the stove pipe. Luckily a concerned fishermen had already dialed up 911 and the heroes were already on their way to save the day.
After the fire department arrived, promptly cooled things down and prevented any lasting damage to the house (and my pride), they even took some time to indulge my little guy with a full tour of the fire engine. He got to spray a fire extinguisher. He got to wear the radio headset. And most impressively, he got to blare the horn, twice.
After a quick photo for a keepsake, as the parade of red engines, trucks, and EMT wagons rolled away, it seemed that we were in the clear. Of course, I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Before we could fire the woodstove back up the chimney obviously needed to be cleaned. So I pulled out the ladder and hoofed it like Rudolph up onto the roof. WIth the help of a trusty neighbor (and dogged Chronicle subscriber, I might add) we rigged up a heavy chain with a brush on the end in order to knock the blob black creosote stalactites from their well-staked stations inside the chimney. The plan was going quite swimmingly right up until I’d reached the end of the 25-foot long chain. That’s when the bolt we’d used to connect the brush to the chain slipped and left me holding just the brush as the chain went into a free fall before piling up like a coiled snake of rusted links at the bottom of the two-and-a-half story cavity.
As I stood there on the roof gobsmacked by my compounding problems, Ol’ “Independence” Steve stood on the ground, casting a sheepish look my way before he noted, “You should have known it was all gonna go wrong when you asked me to help.”
I laughed but only because I wanted to cry. The rain was coming, and a cold front was on the move behind that. I knew I had to get the chain out but it seemed an impossible task with so much Santa Clause trapping space between myself and the object of necessity. Likewise, pulling it out from the ground level was not an option due to the absurd amount of debris that had coagulated like stratified sedimentary rocks just above the vent of the woodstove.
I was stymied and angry at myself so I shimmied off the roof as quickly as I could before things got any worse.
The next week was as bare as the temperature dropped below freezing and refused to budge much. I watched anglers coming and going from the river like clockwork but was never inclined to join them because it was already so cold inside my house and there was no way of warming up if father and son elected to expose ourselves to the dastardly elements of winter salmon fishing.
So I sat under a pile of blankets and stewed over a million crackpot ideas that might fish the chain out of the chimney. There were visions of high powered magnets, and hay hooks on a rope. Maybe I pondered putting a toddler down the hole to see what he could see, but the important thing is I didn’t go through with it. None of the schemes would have worked, I’m sure, but I wasn’t even able to try since showers had slicked the roof and then frost settled in like a drunk uncle on the couch to finish off what the rains had started. As they say, our future looked as shaky as a fiddler on a tin roof.
Then, one day, I spotted neighbor Steve strolling down the long driveway between our houses with a little more pep in his step than usual. He was holding something in his hand that, and at certain angles it would reflect a rainbow prism through the frozen air. As he got closer I could see a rope wrapped up in his hand and a telling sparkle in his eye. The good neighbor not only had a plan, he had a makeshift tool!
The tool was a nine-inch long bastard halibut jig with more hooks protruding from its flank than the front row of a punk rock show.
“I’ve got a chain just like that one at home,” noted Steve in a ball of excitement. “I put it in a bucket and dropped this in there and it hooked it almost every time!”
So when the time and conditions were right I scrambled back up on the roof and brought the handy-dandy snagging device along with me. Contrary to proper safety protocol I went up alone and didn’t tell anyone what I was doing for fear of jinxing my chances. And like a superstitious angler propping up his own piscatorial prospects by employing perennially tight lips, my paranoia wound up paying off.
It took me three tries, but on that third attempt I felt the telltale tension in the line I’d been dreaming of. Nervous, I brought it up slowly at first before becoming confident that I’d hooked my unseen prey thoroughly enough that it wouldn’t slip away. Then, in a fit of excitement that washes over any angler when they’ve got a big fish on, I started reeling in the line as fast as I could. I folded the rope over my winter-chapped hands like the Old Man and the Sea until I was holding the catch firmly in my winter-chapped grasp at the top of the stacked brick chute.
Or maybe I was like the Great Dimaggio and pounding out another hit and winning another battle over his bone spurs. Either way, I’d hardly ever been so happy with what was waiting for me at the end of the line. Although it wasn’t a record catch, or even one I could eat, the haul did measure a whopping 25 feet long, at least 60 pounds, and its patina indicated that it was older than the fabled bass at the bottom of Ol’ Mill Pond.
After a mess of post-catch cleaning I finally able to strike up the woodstove again to unthaw both the floorboards and my own bones. And best of all, with that upper echelon in the hierarchy of needs satisfied, my mind was free to ponder other pursuits, like fishing with frozen fingertips down by the river.
After all, when it comes to freezing for hours on end with nothing much to show, it’s always preferable for it to be a self-imposed choice rather than an inescapable status quo. Now, even when the fish don’t bite we can take solace knowing that the home fires are still burning.
(*Special thanks to “Independence” Steve for subscribing, and for helping me jig my way out of trouble, again.)
A brief dusting of snow and the inevitable rain showers that followed to wash it all away recharged area rivers late last week and sent anglers scrambling to find their favorite fishing gear. Alas, the fluctuating river levels proved to be more of a tease than anything as catch and keep rates didn’t change too much at all from previous weeks.
On the Chehalis River anglers are limited to keeping just one coho adult per day. However, that limit hasn’t come into effect too often as the silvers continue to be few and far between. Moreover, most of the coho that have been caught have been deemed too dark to keep by plunkers with discerning taste.
As December marches on hatchery steelhead should return to the lower Chehalis as well as the Wynoochee, and Satsop rivers.
Out on the Columbia River anglers can target hatchery coho and hatchery steelhead from Rocky Point/Tongue Point Line up to Bonneville Dam. The daily limit is six fish total, of which two may be adult coho, or one adult hatchery coho and one hatchery steelhead. All other salmon must be released. Additionally, the Elochoman is open for steelhead, the Cowlitz is open for coho, the Lewis is open for Chinook, jack coho, and hatchery steelhead while the Kalama and Coweeman are open for coho and steelhead.
According to WDFW sampling last week six bank anglers on the Kalama River had no catch at all while one bank angler on the Elochoman was similarly skunked.
Meanwhile, on the lower Cowlitz River between the freeway boat launch and the mouth 13 bank rods released one Chinook and 16 rods on four boats kept six silvers. Early this week river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 3,540 cubic feet per second with visibility of 12 feet and a temperature of 48.2 degrees.
At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery last week crews retrieved 1,069 coho adults, 30 coho jacks, four cutthroat trout, two summer-run steelhead, and three fall Chinook adults. Fish handlers also released 126 coho adults, and four coho jacks into the Cispus River by Yellow Jacket Creek near Randle, along with 458 coho adults and 14 coho jacks into Lake Scanewa located near Randle. Another 235 coho adults, five coho jacks, and two fall Chinook adults were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.
Elsewhere, anglers have been having good luck chasing kokanee in the Merwin and Yale reservoirs. Tiger muskie have also been biting at Merwin. Silver Lake near Toutle has had hungry crappie and yellow perch.
Prospects for trout remain elevated following a concerted stocking effort by the WDFW in advance of their ballyhooed day after Thanksgiving fishery. On Nov. 22 Battle Ground Lake received 963 rainbow trout weighing more than a pound each and reports indicate those new residents have been biting. South Lewis County Park Pond and Fort Borst Park Pond were also slated for large shipments of hatchery trout but it’s unclear if those fish were ever trucked in. Elsewhere, American Lake received 1,800 one pound trout on Nov. 25 and Tanwax Lake was planted with 1,075 trout weighing more than a pound each. Cases Pond in Pacific County was scheduled for a delivery of rainbows as well. In Thurston County, Black Lake was planted with 1,500 one pound trout on Nov. 26, Long Lake received 1,005 trout weighing more than a pound on Nov. 25, and Offut Lake was planted with 1,215 rainbows weighing more than a pound each that same day.
As we wade into real winter the tides are turning on hunting seasons as well. Where deer and elk have been receiving the bulk of the pressure so far hunters are now beginning to shift their interest to waterfowl.
Of course, a little rain would help to bring more of those wet-footed birds into area drainages.
Goose hunting will remain open through Jan. 26 in most of the region. In Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties hunters are required to obtain a special permit and Dusky Canada geese are off limits entirely. In Goose Management Area 2 (Coast) in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties west of Highway 101, goose hunting is currently closed but will reopen on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays from Dec. 22 through Jan. 20. In Goose Management Area 2 (Inland), which includes Grays Harbor County east of Highway 101, hunting is allowed Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays through Jan. 13.
Ducks are also fair game through Jan. 26 in southwest Washington. Some prime areas for targeting ducks include the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge north of Olympia as well as Henderson and Budd Inlets on South Puget Sound. The old Centralia Coal Mine is another popular place to find ducks, along with flooded farm fields near river channels where access can be obtained.
Extended pheasant season is open through Dec. 15 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island (except Bayview), and Lincoln Creek release sites. Forest grouse hunters can continue to fill their limits through the end of the year in the high timberlands.
Late archery and muzzleloader seasons for black-tails and elk began last week and will continue through at least Dec. 15, depending on the area. Some areas will remain open through the end of the year for archers chasing black-tailed deer, while GMU 407 will stay open until Jan. 20 for bowman and musketeers in search of elk. The GMUs of 658, 672, 673, and 681 are home to the Willapa Hills elk herd and draw the most effort in District 17.
Cougar hunts will continue through at least the end of the year when the WDFW tabulates harvest numbers. Historically, most areas have remained open for cougar hunting through April 30. Small game hunts for bobcats, fox, raccoon, cottontail rabbit, and snowshoe will all remain open through March 15, and coyote hunts never end in Washington.
Meanwhile, beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat, and river otter trapping seasons that opened at the beginning of November will continue through the end of March. Those animals may only be harvested by means of trapping.
Additionally, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties in order to protect endangered populations of Columbia white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permit applications, and additional roadkill salvage regulations, can now be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage.
The WDFW has approved another round of razor clam digs for the coastal beaches. The seven-day dig is set to begin on Tuesday after marine toxin testing revealed that the succulent bivalves are safe to eat.
The approved digs are set for the following beaches, dates and low tides:
December 10, Tuesday, 5:28 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 11, Wednesday, 6:06 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 12, Thursday, 6:45 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 13, Friday, 7:26 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 14, Saturday, 8:08 pm, -1.0 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 15, Sunday, 8:53 pm, -0.8 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 16, Monday, 9:41 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
Additionally, the WDFW has released a set of tentative digging dates that will reach into February. Those digs will have to be approved closer to the actual dates pending the results of more marine toxin testing.
"We also were able to pencil out tentative dates, and upcoming digs bring a ton of opportunity to harvest clams well into the new year," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, in a press release.
Proposed razor clam digs for Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks remaining this year include:
December 23, Monday, 4:35 pm, -0.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 26, Thursday, 6:47 pm, -1.1 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 27, Friday, 7:26 pm, -0.9 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
December 28, Saturday, 8:05 pm, -0.6 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis
December 29, Sunday, 8:43 pm, -0.2 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks
No digging will be allowed on any beach before noon. Ayres always advises diggers to arrive an hour or two prior to low tide in order to find the best digging prospects. With night digs in effect he also reminds beach goers to be safe.
"Diggers want to be sure to come prepared with good lighting devices and always keep an eye on the surf, particularly at this time of year when low tides come at dusk and after dark," added Ayres.
Fifteen clams is the daily limit and all diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a fishing license. No high grading is allowed and individuals must carry their own harvest in a personal container.
Bird lovers will be happy to know that they can converge for the Christmas Bird Count in area burgs in the following weeks. The annual avian survey established by the Audubon Society is in its 120th year and provides one of the most comprehensive sets of data on birds in the western hemisphere in existence.
The Olympia CBC is set for Dec. 15 and the Lewis County CBC will take place on Dec. 20. Birdwatchers in Wahkiakum County will do their thing on Dec. 30 while the Cowlitz/Columbia county CBC will take place on Jan. 1. Grays Harbor will wrap things up with their counting effort on Jan. 4.
The CBC depends on volunteer efforts and is free to join.
“It brings people from the surrounding areas into a place together that I love and call home,” said Dalton Spencer, organizer of the Lewis County CBC. “The numbers matter and the numbers are all going toward something,”
To sign up for the Lewis County Christmas Bird Count send an email to Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Dave Hayden at 360-388-1317.
In state news, the WDFW is seeking applicants for positions on its waterfowl advisory group.
“We’re looking for several new candidates, with diverse backgrounds, who can effectively present their views on waterfowl management to WDFW and the public,” said Kyle Spragens, WDFW waterfowl section manager, in a press release. “This group provides important input on hunting regulations, hunter access programs, and state duck stamp wetland enhancement projects.”
The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. on Jan. 3.
“We carefully consider recommendations from our advisory groups,” said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager, in the release. “We value the experience that long-standing members bring to the table, and we want advisory groups to represent the diversity of interests that Washingtonians have about wildlife management statewide.”
Applications can be filled out online at wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/wfag, or sent by mail to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504.
Ski and snowboard season almost got started this week, but then it didn’t.
“It's a little warm; while we had hoped to get open this weekend, it's not looking promising,” noted the White Pass ski report.
Temperatures were 34 degrees on Friday and snow had been falling throughout the week. Needless to say, it’s time to start waxing your planks in preparation for shredding season.
If you’ve been itching to put a little gravel in your travel, a Christmas tree hunt may be just the excuse you need. Permits are currently available for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that allow the public to harvest their own Christmas trees from the verdant foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
As with any adventure, there are risks associated with winter forays into the woods. That includes inclement weather and poor roads, not to mention greenhorns operating chainsaws or swinging axes.
“Winter weather in the forest can change rapidly,” warned a nameless person tasked with speaking for the National Forest in a press release. “Most forest roads are not maintained for winter driving. Forest staff recommend bringing traction devices and a shovel, extra food, drinking water, winter clothing, blankets, a flashlight and a first aid kit. Don’t forget a tool for cutting the tree and a rope or cord to secure it to vehicles. Tree cutting and travel may take longer than anticipated, so let a friend or family member know where you’re going, get an early start, and leave the woods well before dark.”
Permits are $5 per tree, with a limit of five permits per household. They can be obtained online at openforest.fs.usda.gov. Locations where permits can be purchased in person include:
• Cowlitz Valley Ranger District
10024 US Hwy 12, Randle, WA 98377; (360) 497-1100
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. (Closed for lunch 12:00-1:00 p.m.)
• Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
42218 NE Yale Bridge Rd., Amboy, WA 98607; (360) 449-7800
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ashford — Ashford General Store, 360-569-2377
• Ashford — Ashford Valley Grocery, 360-569-2560
• Elbe — Elbe Junction, 360-524-7707
• Elbe — Elbe Mall, 360-569-2772
• Packwood — Blanton’s Market, 360-494-6101
• Randle — Fischer’s Market, 360-497-5355
• Randle — Randle One Stop, 360-497-3261