Archive for May, 2017

Catching Big Flat Fish

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 26, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Somewhere in one of those January or February sportsmen shows, I had a confab with Captain Don Davenport. I’ve known Don for a decade or more and have rocked away more than a few days aboard one or another of the boats in his Ocean Sportfishing fleet out of Westport, Washington. By the time we finished catching up, I had reserved a couple spots on a May 11 halibut fishing trip.

At a moment in late March, Homey Bill Boyum and I were discussing our upcoming July Kenai River sockeye trip with his son, Jon. We had pretty well settled on where and how many Alaska sockeye we would catch this year, and had gear needs sorted out, when it suddenly occurred to us we ought to go fishing before July.

We made a plan to go fish the lower Columbia with our Oregon buddy Steve Souvenir for a couple days – just to somehow enrich his life. Then I recalled I still had two spots on a halibut boat, and asked Bill if he wanted to go chase big flat fish out of Westport. His response was something to the effect of “When do we leave?”

My last Westport trip had been on the Rock n Roll, a six-pack boat with Captain Steve “Need for Speed” Connally, a deckhand and six fishers. We’d been first to the halibut flats and first to the ling cod reefs, as promised, and we limited on both, with a big mess of sea bass and black cod. That was a very fast and rough ride, to a remarkable day of fishing. This year, we would be aboard the 14-fisherman Angler, under the wing of Captain Chris West and Deckhand Josh.

After the interminable wait which always accompanies such plans, we hit Westport early evening of Wednesday, 10 May. We checked into our room and wandered into my favorite coastal town for dinner. I mentioned our 2:15 a.m. checkin at the Ocean Sportfishing office, to which Homey responded, “Are you #!*? kidding me?”

Thus, very early and on time, we were clearing balances and getting the day’s marching orders. As always, I dropped ten bucks on a halibut derby ticket. As we walked down to the docked Angler, Bill asked about the ticket. “Yeah, old habit,” I said. ‘It supports old charter boat captains (I think) and works for keeping a sustainable fishing and charter boat business. I like that. …And you never know when your number will come up – you just never know.”

Captain Chris was ready to go by 3, but some folks missed the memo. We were underway at 3:45. Since we could be out beyond 12 hours, Cap needed a backup skipper. Who else? I shook hands with Captain “Need for Speed” Steve, now mostly recovered from back surgery, and leaned toward Bill. “Don says Chris is great, and now here’s Steve; this will be a super day!”

We headed over the harbor mouth bar, amid grumbles of rough water. Captain Steve and I smiled as I told my pansy friends that this ride was a walk in the park. Three hours later, we were on the halibut flats with a dozen other boats.

Captain Chris had an amazing way of managing the Angler as it drifted over the flats. We focused on the halibut hundreds of feet below us, as the Angler’s rocking became the rhythm of our fishing. As we drifted – even as others came too close to us – Cap somehow kept all the fishing lines parallel. In a dozen halibut trips I had never seen that. Snags or tangles were very rare.

We quickly were into fish, and I slowly hauled up a very good fish. Captain Steve figured a bit over 35 pounds, but noted that he was often a few pounds off on bigger fish. Bill lost a smaller fish, then brought up a nice 25+ pounder. Each drift across the deep flat brought another handful of 20 to 30 pound flatfish up from two football fields beneath us, keeping Deckhand Josh and Baitmaster Greg busy netting and baiting. In near record time, Cap said we were full of halibut and pointed us toward his favorite ling cod reef.

On the ling cod reef, from a fraction of our former depth, Bill and a couple others landed nice ten-pound lings. Over the next hours, we all caught near-limits of rockfish (sea bass), as most everyone warmed to the brighter day and quieter water.

At some point, Cap fired up the motors and pointed us back toward Westport. We examined and photographed fish as they came up for filleting by Deckhand Josh. Captain Steve asked if I had a derby ticket, and the decision was made to not filet my fish.

We reached the dock some thirteen hours after we left it. Captain Chris noted that the big halibut of the season was 48 pounds, but for the day so far was a bit over 35. As fishers thanked Cap and his crew, gathered filets and stepped onto terra firma, Josh and I shouldered a gaff with my fish and hustled to the weighmaster.

Westport Charterboat Association Derbies are for lingcod, halibut, salmon and tuna. Tickets are only for fishers on licensed charter boats. Some 350 folks are out on a given day; maybe 270 of them buy derby tickets. There are prizes up to $500 for weekly winners and a $2,000+ for season leaders. This year, the season’s biggest Chinook salmon will bring a derby ticket holder $10,000.

The season’s biggest ling and tuna have yet to be caught – and someone will catch that $10,000 king salmon. Could well happen on Captain Chris’ Angler, or in the presence of one of Ocean Sportfishing’s other skilled and hardworking crews (see

If I told you how much my 44 pound 11 ounce halibut was worth in that particular day’s derby, I’d probably have to report the five hundred bucks as income. I would do that anyway, of course, but I’m still not telling.

Go fish. Happy summer…


Photo of Bill (top) by Jim Huckabay and photo of Josh and Jim (bottom) by Bill Boyum…

Ducks Unlimited and the Hunting Film Tour

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 19, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

It’s perfect timing really. Next Wednesday, by midnight, we must have our dream tickets – our special hunt applications – dropped into the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife system for the June draw. On Thursday, we will gather at the Central Washington University Student Union Rec Center Theater, pay our 10 bucks, and watch a great film of successful hunts like the ones we filed for the night before. One of us will win a Yeti65 cooler. Perfect.

This is the Hunting Film Tour, brought to Paradise by Ducks Unlimited (DU). The film is a “two hour conservation minded, fair chase hunting film filled with awesome stories and breathtaking cinematography!” Next Thursday, we will gather to celebrate our hunting heritage, and the conservation of wild things and places which has long accompanied it.

Sitka Gear is the primary sponsor for the Hunting Film Tour, with a number of others including DU, the Sportsman’s Warehouse, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Wild Sheep Foundation, Yeti, Kimber, Federal Premium and more. All these organizations share a devotion to our hunting heritage and a forever future for wildlife.

You are no doubt familiar with the famous Ducks Unlimited mission statement. DU “conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl.  These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.” With very few word changes, this is OUR mission – and that of all the Hunting Film Tour sponsors, as well as local outfits like our 98-year-old Kittitas County Field and Stream Club. We are all in the game of ensuring wildlife and its habitat for our children’s children and those who follow them.

Ducks Unlimited formed in 1937, taking in earlier groups which branched out from the Boone and Crockett Club in response to nosediving waterfowl numbers across North America. It became the model for most other successful wildlife conservation organizations which, together, have taken huge strides toward having wildlife for future generations. The 700,000+ world-wide members of DU continue to add to the three and a half billion dollars raised since 1937. At least eighty percent of the money raised is used directly for conservation projects, enhancing waterfowl, wetlands and other critical habitats, and nearly fourteen million acres have been conserved across North America. No other conservation or environmental group can match DU for putting its money where its mouth is, but they all work at it.

The “factories” producing most of the waterfowl we see in our part of the world also provide habitat for billions of land birds and animals. A good many of these areas are under development pressure, and International DU is the organization which has been most successful at finding solutions that protect habitat and meet human needs. Thus, DU is supported by a broad range of sportsmen – not just waterfowl fans.

Restoring and enhancing quality habitat in key waterfowl areas is a game we play each time we commit to look after wild things and wild places into the future.  Some of us play louder than others; consider that eastern Washington is one of the top ten DU support regions in North America.

In Washington, something over 30,000 people buy federal duck stamps. Many of them are non-hunters, who see the duck stamp program as a way to contribute to the future of all bird life. Since its inception in 1934, this federal program has conserved 5.7 million acres and created or expanded 300 federal wildlife refuges. No matter how you look at it, waterfowl habitat conservation serves almost all the wild things in which we share interest.

Of course, you can easily find everything you want to know about waterfowl and the conservation of our habitat. Check out,, or

Ensuring a future is simple, really. The very process of celebrating our hunting heritage involves us in restoring and enhancing quality habitat for wildlife for those who will live in times we will never see. This is a game we are all playing – and it brings us great pleasure.

In six days, the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association will convene in the SURC Theatre at 6:30 p.m. One of us will leave with a Yeti65 Cooler, a bunch of us will have hats, mugs and other swag, and all of us will enjoy a great film of hunters doing what we just sent in our own applications to do.

Get your $10 ticket online at, at 509-423-3954, or at the door of the SURC Theater (the SURC is at the end of Chestnut, just north of University Way on campus).

See you Thursday evening. Let’s celebrate!

Pick an Outdoor Pass – Any Pass (?)

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 12, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

One of my local heroes dropped me a suggestion a few days ago. Hal Mason wrote, “I recently looked at the passes available to Washington residents that are needed to get out in the outdoors. What a confusing mess. It might be a welcome thing to many people to have some clear information about what passes are required where. Might be impossible to sort out but worth a try.” Thus, the following attempt to make sense of your outdoor access options.

This “pay for play” on public land has long intrigued me. In the ‘50s, few passes were required. Public lands were managed with our tax dollars, along with all other public services we expected from our government in exchange for tithes to those we elected to look after our public business. Somehow over the decades – even as our population and tax revenues grew – “government” support of our lands dwindled. We have faced an ever-increasing number of ever-rising fees to play on our own land. While I understand some of this, most of it remains a mystery to me. There is a book in there somewhere.

Be that as it may, today’s reality is that we need passes and/or permits to recreate on our public ground. They have different uses and purposes, but we are regularly reminded that both “permits” and “passes” have been established to make certain our public lands are maintained to such a level that we are assured of a quality outdoor experience on them.

Consider passes first. Understand that passes are for access, and many of the areas you access may have separate fees for camping or backcountry use. Also understand that most agencies – recognizing fees are hardships for some – have “free” days or times.

To park on your public ground managed by Washington state agencies, the Discover Pass is the only one you must purchase – $30 for the Annual Pass and $10/car for a Day Pass. This pass allows you to park in Washington State Parks, and on Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. It gets you access to seven million plus acres of state-managed recreation ground. Buy your Discover Pass online, at retail outlets, at most state parks or when renewing your car license tabs. (Some outlets add a small handling charge to purchases.)

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Use/Access Pass is provided at no additional charge with your hunting or fishing license, and provides access to ground managed by DFW.

Access to your ground managed by federal agencies is a bit more complex. For purchase or more detail on the passes below, see

The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and gets you into any national park, Forest Service or other federal fee site for one year. Purchase at a park or online.

The best bargain around is the Interagency Senior Pass. For $20 (must purchase in person at a park or fee site), any US citizen 62 or older will get a lifetime pass honored nationwide at any federal site charging entrance fees.

Free Annual Passes provide access to federal land for all active military personnel and their dependents, for volunteers after 250 hours, to all 4th graders in America and to eligible folks with permanent disabilities. Some are annual and some are lifetime passes honored nationwide.

Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks Entrance fee is $25/car ($10/person to walk or bike in), good for seven days. Rates vary for motorcycles. Annual Pass is $50 for either park, but is only good at the park where it was purchased. North Cascades National Park charges to fee.

All US Forest Service trailheads in Washington and Oregon with toilets, picnic tables, or so on charge a fee – go online to and click on “plan a visit” for details.

The National Forest Recreation Day Pass and ePass is $5/car for a day of trailhead parking. (These can be bought ahead and dates filled in as needed.)

The Northwest Forest Pass is an annual $30 pass good at Forest Service day-use or entrance fee sites. The pass is available at USFS offices and visitor centers and online at the link above.

Mount St. Helens National Monument is managed by the Forest Service and charges a per-person fee of $8 per person (under 16 kids are free). Certain annual and senior passes are honored.

A number of our National Wildlife Refuges (such as Nisqually, Dungeness and Ridgefield) also require a recreation pass. That charge is generally about $3/family ($15/year), purchased at the visitor center. Your other federal passes or Federal Duck Stamp pass will often work, too.

So, what about those permits? Permits are generally for backcountry/wilderness travel in quota areas. They serve to control the amount of foot traffic in fragile environments – as well as limit overall numbers of travelers to preserve quality experiences. Some permits are free, and others come with small fees. Check with individual parks for more information.

Washington Trails Association has plenty more info on all of this – as well as Sno-Park information – at

I hope this helps!

Happy summer! Pick a pass – any pass – and get out there.

Wild Sheep and RMBS

Written by Jim Huckabay on May 5, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Bighorn sheep have been on my mind the last month or so. Could be that reminiscing with Brian Talbot about the ram he took down The Yakima River Canyon in November. Maybe it’s the conference call Joe Zbylski and I will have with some of the sheep biologists and pros in Washington to discuss current and future plans for dealing with die-offs and health issues affecting the wild sheep of Paradise. Perhaps, it is my struggle to decide where I will throw my large number of preference points this month as I (with thousands of others) submit my application for a Washington state bighorn sheep special hunt permit. Be that as it may, Edward (last of the Hucklings) and I were in Denver a week ago at the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society (RMBS).

Joe and I, with Max Tallent, Marv Clyncke and a handful of other bighorn sheep nuts, founded the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society in Denver in 1975. Bighorns across much of the West were on the losing side of interactions with domestic sheep and habitat loss, and we thought maybe we could do something to help these icons of our wild places. Then, as now, the Society’s mission was “to promote the science-based management of the bighorn sheep, educate the public about their life and habitat, and assure the sportsman’s rights in proper opportunities.”

In those early years, we raised money for research programs and brought together folks with ideas. Over a few years, we were able to get nearly a hundred people at annual meetings, and raise a few thousand bucks for important work.

When I moved back to the Northwest, I lost track of many of my sheep-nut colleagues. In March of 2000, on a perfect early spring morning, I got a call at my office in Central’s Lind Hall. “This Jim Huckabay?” “Uh… Yeah…” “Man…” the guy said, “You don’t know what I’ve gone through to find you! Finally got your numbers from Max Tallent, down in Colorado Springs. Anyhow, I’m Bud Henderson, president of the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, and we’re having our 25th Annual Banquet in April.”

“25th Annual? 25 years? How could it be 25 years?” My head was spinning.

“So the membership and board selected a handful of people who did the most in the early years to keep the Society going, and we have an award of recognition for you. We’d love it if you could be at the banquet. A lot of the other old-timers will be there…” “Early years? …Other old-timers?” I sat down.

Edward and I went to that 2000 banquet.

Since the turn of the Century, I have renewed many of those sheep-nut relationships and continue to write, talk and think about bighorn sheep and their ongoing issues. 2017 seemed like a good year to take in another RMBS banquet.

It is generally agreed that wild sheep evolved in Asia during the early Pleistocene, within the last couple million years. They probably developed their distinctive characteristics while isolated in ice-free periods during the latter part of the Pleistocene. In those times, when the continental and cordilleran glaciers melted sufficiently, ancestors of our modern wild sheep migrated southward into what is today western Canada and the USA. The isolation of various bighorn bands in those areas during later glaciations resulted in the different subspecies of bighorn sheep.

In Washington we have Rocky Mountain bighorns (Ovis canadensis) and California bighorns (Ovis canadensis californiana). The sheep of Paradise are California bighorns – slightly smaller than the Rocky Mountain sheep.

You are likely well aware of the sheep die-offs in Paradise and around the West. More is learned each year about how these things spread, along with how much – or little – patience must be practiced when wild sheep start dying.

In 1995-96, pneumonia almost wiped out wild bighorn herds in the Blue Mountains and in the Hells Canyon area of Idaho and Oregon along the Snake River. Many herds are still rebuilding. In 2007 and again in ’15 we had outbreaks in our Yakima Canyon Umtanum herd. Tests at Washington State University confirmed infections with Mycoplasma and Pasteurella, along with a variety of other genetically-distinct bacteria which trigger several pneumonias with widely varying outcomes.

Sheep in The Canyon are important; of our state’s 1,500 wild bighorns – 18 herds in central and eastern Washington – more than half are along the Yakima River. Bighorn sheep ewes that survive a pneumonia outbreak often cannot produce surviving offspring for up to ten years (most lambs die in their first six months).

Several of the states around us deal with similar situations. All have developed strict rules about the intermingling of wild sheep and their domestic relatives (unaffected by Pasteurella and Mycoplasma). The risk to wild sheep is very high – almost any nose to nose greeting will infect a wild sheep with enough bacteria to spread like wildfire through its entire herd. Some states have followed Colorado’s lead in giving carte blanche to the killing of any bighorn found near domestic sheep. A die-off is never easy to watch or manage.

Last week’s 2017 banquet? We had a great time. RMBS has grown over the decades. There were 370 men, women and children at the banquet. Money raised with raffles and auctions still goes to support wild sheep, but it now adds up to $100,000 or more annually.