Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ocean's Bounty

Several weeks ago I got an invitation for a late June trip to go salmon fishing on the Pacific Ocean near Westport, WA.  The salmon season is heavily regulated here in the Northwest, and at times the window of opportunity to chase these beautiful Kings is slim.  This trip was going to be two days of fishing, and would require some ridiculous travel efforts.  But the chance to fill the freezer was too tempting and so I headed out of Yakima at 11:30pm on Sunday evening, June 19th and headed west for about 4.5 hours, aiming for Westport and a boat scheduled to leave the dock at 4:30am.

Westport is located at the south end of Gray's Harbor, WA, looking out onto the Pacific Ocean.  Ocean fishing has a whole different feel than fishing the Columbia River and it's tributaries.  The boat was the same one I fished on a month ago at the Wind.  It felt large there....but when I found it moored at the dock in the boat basin at Westport, it seemed like a child's toy as it nestled there between large commercial trawlers and coast-guard cutters.  Clearly we were in a different class of water.  Crossing the bar at the entrance to the harbor can be notoriously bad, as outgoing tidal currents meet incoming ocean swell.  I popped a couple of dramamine and prepared myself for the worst.  The guys I had joined there had fished the day before, enduring conditions that they were still talking about, a little wide-eyed.  But that morning and the rest of the two days we enjoyed fantastic weather and smooth seas.

One of the real pleasures of ocean fishing is seeing your prey, in this case Chinook Salmon, in the context of the rest of the ecosystem.  The sea is alive with every level of the food chain, and it was fascinating to see the chinook as part of this larger system.  We cruised looking for circling birds, which were feeding on large schools of anchovies balled up into "bait balls", sometimes just under the surface.  The anchovies were sometimes schooled up large enough to cover a large parking lot, at times stretching a hundred yards.  The depth finder would show them spread out between 20-30 feet depth, at other times they made the surface ripple like it was raining as they flashed and darted at food made just their size.

The birds preyed on the anchovies from above, but other, larger predators worked on them from below.  At times you could see the anchovies leaping up out of the water in a kind of a wave that would travel from one end of the ball to the other - something was coming at them from underneath.  Often, it would be hungry chinook.  But there were all kinds of predators out: seals, sea lions, dolphins, and even whales.  And, of course, there were the fleet of boats out pursuing the chinook who were pursuing the anchovies.  A regular circle of life.

On the Wind we pulled candy-red prawns on spinners, but here it was lures only.  This meant no bait to worry about, which was nice.  The focus becomes on color and shape, and the newest trend is in ultra-violet colors that are part of the visual spectrum of the fish.  We trolled at fairly high speed, and varied the depth from 30-80ft, picking up fish all through the water column.  The catch was more varied than on the Columbia, we saw more wild fish and more coho salmon in the mix, both of which had to be immediately released.

We limited the boat, 2 keepers apiece, the first day by about 12:30pm and motored back to the boat basin to process the fish.  Enforcement was pretty sharp - a uniformed Fish and Game officer boarded every boat that returned from fishing, examining each fish to make sure it was legal, searching the holds of the boat for any hidden catch, and checking each on of our catch cards, to be sure they were filled out.  We had a pretty impressive fish box, lots of lookers coming by to see what we had brought in.  This included a 1500lb sea lion that had a reputation for being a bit too forward when he thought a snack could be found.

 The next day we had even more beautiful weather, and the anchovies were more plentiful than the day before.  The birds seemed to be sated, but we saw more dolphins and a pod of orca was spotted nearby as well.  We even watched a gray whale plow through a large section of fish at one point, about 100 yards off to one side of the boat.  The fishing was slower, and we had to cut loose a bunch of coho in the morning, but we managed to get 4 in the boat before calling it quits around 12:30.  This was a great experience, though the guys kept reminding me that the conditions we saw over the two days were not common.  I was glad for the chance to experience it and am especially glad for the freezer full of fresh salmon!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Evie's family picture....we look good...

Evie and Piper have both been enjoying some important events over the last couple of weeks.  Evie had her first piano recital, and Piper graduated from preschool.  Both exhibited great poise at their respective events.  The boy is excelling in his own ways, of course.....ways that are not necessarily easily measured by science or appreciated by his sisters.
Evie, Piper, and Evie's friend Maya at Evie's recital
Piper receives her diploma - the world is her oyster!

Evie is proud, and should be - she NAILED IT!

Veggie Tales

The wall of peas is becoming a reality.  This cool spring has played havoc on most of the rest of the garden, but the peas have loved it.  These pictures were taken maybe a week or so ago, the peas are now full of blossoms.  We are getting ready for a bumper crop!

Busy Bees

The bees have been busy over the past several weeks, building comb just as fast as they can and filling them with brood cells and pollen stores.  They have built about 10 bars of comb, some of it fully formed, and are working on some honey stores.  The weather has been unseasonably cool this spring, but we finally seemed to have turned the corner towards summer.

I finally received gloves and a smoker, plus fuel, that I had ordered and was all ready to check on them on Monday.  Thunderstorms and a couple of really windy days delayed those plans, but I was able to go up during lunch today and do a hive inspection.  In truth, I have very little idea what to look for.  But I have noticed that the photos are hi-res and reveal a lot of details, so I am considering making digital photos a regular part of the inspection....then I can review the photos later for details that are hard to spot in the field.The small bit of comb that these bees are working on was drawn on the bar furthest from the hive entrance.  I had added three empty bars a couple of weeks ago near the entrance in order to give them room to expand their brood area.  They have filled all three bars in that time, really amazing.  I am not totally satisfied that I have optimized the brood area/storage areas, but they will deal with it in their own way, I am sure.
As I was inspecting some of the brood comb, I was able to watch a couple of bees emerge.  It was pretty cool to see.  I have always thought of bees as a flying insect, but when in the hive they are really better thought of as a swarming/crawling insect.  They have some personality, it seems to me, and I chuckled a couple of times as I was trying to close up the hive.  The girls line up on the edges of the top bars gazing up at the sky, making it hard to get the bars positioned close to one another.  Some brave few even venture out onto the tops of the bars, fanning themselves in little groups, seeming to congratulate themselves on their bravery.  Until the bars start to get put back, in which case they scramble to get back inside.
Evie and Piper are excited about some business opportunities that might arise from the bees.  Piper is going to be in charge of honey sales, Evie has decided to focus on wax products, especially natural lip balms.  Future posts may include shameless sale's pitches.  You are forewarned!