MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Duck hunting just got better on the North Olympic Peninsula

DUCK HUNTING HAS finally come to the people of the North Olympic Peninsula.

For the first time in more than 100 years, an area west of the Dungeness River mouth will open for waterfowl hunting when the statewide season begins Saturday.

Long considered one of the premiere places to target fowl on the Peninsula, Dungeness Valley hunting grounds have been almost exclusively private since the Voice of America (aka Dungeness Recreation Area) closed years ago.

That all changes this fall with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife opening a 140-acre portion to public hunting under a three-year agreement with Dungeness Farms Inc.

The unit — located west of the Dungeness River off Rivers End Road — will open Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season.

“It really is right there at the mouth,” state biologist Greg Schirato said. “It’s been a private hunting club for many years, so it’s a good opportunity for the public.

“We’re pretty excited about it, because there’s so little hunting opportunity for Clallam County residents.”

Signs will be posted outlining the rules for hunting in the area.

As part of the agreement, Fish and Wildlife granted exclusive access to Dungeness Farms to a parcel off Three Crabs Road.

That site will no longer be open to public access and will be posted accordingly.

“If it works out for both parties, we’ll look at doing a property exchange,” Schirato said.

“This parcel gets [hunters] to the good duck hunting area. [The ducks] will probably go into the bay itself.

“They move back and forth to feed, so it’s kind of in the flight path.”

Hunters once enjoyed good public hunting at the Voice back in the 1980s, Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said.

“We’d come pulling into the parking area early in the morning . . . and you could hear the ducks all the way from the road,” he said. “There were 2,000 ducks sitting on that thing.”

Ideally, this would provide the same sort of opportunity.

Most of the Peninsula’s other public hunting areas can be found near the Hoh, Quillayute Prairie and beaver ponds of the Pysht.

The beach near Graysmarsh Farm in Jamestown typically is open to the public on Wednesdays and Sundays, too.

There are also areas on the Coyle Peninsula worth giving a look.

Clallam County hunters harvested an average of 7,829 ducks and 687 Canada geese during each of the past four years. Jefferson County hunters bagged an average of 2,997 ducks and 233 Canada geese.

The goose numbers have risen steadily each year on the Peninsula, with the 2009 harvest — 1,651 for Clallam and 550 for Jefferson — the largest for both counties.

“Windy, blustery days are probably your key days to hunting [waterfowl],” Aunspach said.

“It’s shoving them off the salt water into those protected lakes and fields. Blustery days keep those ducks moving more.”

Duck season opens for five days beginning on Saturday. After a brief closure it reopens Oct. 23 through Jan. 30.

Canada Geese are fair game Saturday through Oct. 28 and Nov. 6 through Jan. 30.

More hunting

Hunters need not focus on feathers this weekend.

With modern rifle deer season opening in each of the Peninsula’s Game Management Units (GMUs), they can fetch a little fur instead.

There are rumors of a pre-rut period already beginning with Peninsula bucks, Brian Menkal of Brian’s Sporting Goods and More (360-683-1950) in Sequim said.

“A source told me he was watching the bucks sniffing some does,” he said. “It’s a little early, but it’s starting to happen.”

Added Aunspach, “All the guys I’ve talked to feel that it will start a little earlier. Is there a pre-rut going on already? Maybe a little bit.

“The true rut doesn’t start until mid-November, but” that doesn’t mean it can’t come earlier.

Rivers ramp up

I know what the calendar says.

Yes, Oct. 16 is almost here. Yes, that means Dungeness River opens for business Saturday.

But as tantalizing as an opening day dalliance with the Dungeness sounds — Who doesn’t enjoy rubbing elbows with dozens of foul-breathed combat fishermen? — a weekend out west might be a better bet.

The salmon fishing has simply been that good on West End streams during the past week.

“The guys who have been coming in here recently showing pictures of what they are catching in the rivers [out west] have just been insane,” Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it . . . just tons of fish.”

Indeed, reports of four-, five- and six-fish days aren’t all that uncommon on the Sol Duc and Hoh rivers these days.

Sol Duc Hatchery Specialist Brian Russell said the last few shots of rain got things moving this past week.

The hatchery reported its first 100 fall coho of the season, and many more are expected to arrive at its traps in the coming days.

“There’s an awful lot below the hatchery here,” Russell said. “We just had a whole bunch of jacks come in and a few adults. And talking to the guys drifting the river, they say it’s just full of fish.

“We’ve pretty much got fish from the mouth all the way up to the hatchery.”

Such glowing reports aren’t unique to the Quillayute system tributaries either.

With so many coho swimming around — a few kings are present, too — anglers are cleaning up.

“The Sol Duc has been smoking hot and the Hoh has been really smoking hot, too,” Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said.

“I called up one of the guys this morning who was fishing the lower end [of Sol Duc] . . and he said it was ridiculous. He’d been fishing an hour and a half and they were already in the teens for a count.

“[These fish] just seem to keep coming. They’ve been pretty nice fish; nice silvers, 10, 12, 15 [pounds]. I’ve seen half a dozen that were at least 20s or better.”

Those who can’t resist the magnetic pull of the Dungeness shouldn’t be too disappointed, either.

The Dungeness River Hatchery has already received 250 coho this fall, with 150 of those coming during the last week.

“They are kind of coming in spurts,” hatchery technician Orie Cooksey said.

“I talked to a gentleman [Wednesday], and he said they are just now starting to catch some out in the salt. Hopefully, this rain will push them up.”

Saltwater stuff

Hood Canal could soon turn into a saltwater salmon hot spot.

With most of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal outside of Quilcene Bay) opening to full salmon retention Saturday — with the exception of wild chinook — things should pick up.

Clipped chum tend to start showing up in good numbers at the Hoodsport Hatchery in the fall. While there have been none reported so far by the hatchery, that should change in the next couple of weeks.

Whatever is left of the Strait of Juan de Fuca coho parade may have passed by.

Aunspach in Port Angeles said anglers have been doing so-so in the Area 6 (eastern Strait) salt.

“[It] sounds like it’s really slowed down,” he said. “We did weigh a 17-pound, 9-ouncer [coho on Wednesday].”

Anglers are picking off a few blackmouth in the area as well, but “I don’t know if too many guys have actually tried to target them or not,” Aunspach said.

Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) remains open to salmon fishing as well, although all chinook must be released.

Clam success

Kalaloch razor clam diggers cleaned up during the first two openers of the season last weekend.

The crowd was small (324 digger trips) but the bounty (3,959 clams) large during two days of digging at the Olympic National Park beach.

Harvesters averaged 12.2 clams per digger trip, second only to Twin Harbors (12.3) in terms of harvest rate for the state’s five coastal beaches.

State coastal ecologist Dan Ayres attributed that success to Kalaloch’s relatively concentrated populations, located next to the campgrounds.

“It would have been better except Saturday’s weather was just short of terrible,” Ayres said.

The next set of razor clam digs are tentatively scheduled Nov. 5-8.

Kalaloch, pending marine toxin testing, is scheduled to open for afternoon digs Nov. 5-6.

Also . . .

• Dave Jackson of Dungeness River Audubon Center will lead a trip to Carrie Blake Park and John Wayne Marina for beginning birders on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

The trip will allow participants to learn birding techniques and get to know birds in the area. It will also benefit Peninsula residents who are new to the area.

Pre-registration is required. To do so, contact Jackson at 360-683-1355 or djackson@wavecable.com.

• Washington Trails Association will gather a volunteer work party at Dosewallips State Park on Sunday, Oct. 24.

Volunteers must pre-register 48 hours in advance. To pre-register, contact Washington Trails at 206-625-1367 or visit www.wta.org.

• The Gardiner Salmon Derby Association will host a “Taste of Italy” fundraiser at the Gardiner Community Center on Nov. 6.

The event will feature live and silent auctions that will include fishing trips, vacations, sporting event tickets and various other items.

Proceeds will support the nonprofit Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby (formerly Discovery Bay Salmon Derby) on Presidents Day weekend.

Dinner tickets cost $15 and must be purchased in advance.

To do so, contact Marylou Tatum (360-797-7710) or Linda Hanel (360-797-0050).

• The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking nominations through Dec. 1 for membership on the Steelhead/Cutthroat Policy Advisory Group.

Nominations must include the nominee’s name, address, telephone number, affiliations and expertise. The name, address and telephone number of any organization submitting the nomination must also be given.

Nominations may be submitted to state steelhead program manager Bob Leland by mail at 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA, 98501; or e-mail at robert.leland@dfw.wa.gov.

For more information, contact Leland at 360-902-2817.

• Port Townsend’s Leif Whittaker will discuss his summit of Mount Everest at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., in Port Townsend on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.

Whittaker has summitted the highest mountains in Antarctica and South America and is the son of Jim Whittaker, the first American to successfully climb Mount Everest.

Tickets for the event are $12 for Northwest Maritime Center members, $15 in advance and $20 at the door if space permits.

Tickets can be purchased at Wildernest Outdoor Store, 929 Water St., or the Wooden Boat Chandlery in the Northwest Maritime Center.

• The Wapiti Bowmen Archery Club will host a late season 3-D archery shoot on Saturday, Nov. 6.

The shoot will feature 20 full-size 3-D animals at unmarked distances at the club’s 20-acre wooded range at 374 E. Arnette Road in Port Angeles.

The cost is $5.

For more information about the club, send an e-mail to wapitibowclub@gmail.com.

• Winterfest is set for Nov. 19-20 at the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St., in Port Angeles.

The annual fundraiser for the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club usually includes a dinner and movie gala event that Friday night with live and silent auctions.

A second movie showing is normally scheduled the next night as well, with a ski swap that Saturday afternoon.

Send photos, stories

Want your event listed in the outdoors column?

Have a fishing or hunting report, an anecdote about an outdoors experience or a tip on gear or technique, why not share it with our readers?

Send it to me, Matt Schubert, Sports Department, Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362; phone, 360-417-3526; fax, 360-417-3521; e-mail matt.schubert @peninsuladailynews.com.

__________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays.

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