I was walking my dogs just at dawn the other morning and as I walked outside in my normal August attire — shorts, sandals and a T-shirt — it quickly became evident I needed another layer. A crisp, cool breeze was blowing from the west, and with it came the first signs that August was about over and fall was just around the corner.
It seems August just arrived, and here it is almost gone. For those of us who enjoy many of the fall outdoor pursuits, September’s arrival next week brings with it a number of additional options to be outdoors, away from the weird world COVID has created.
Frankly, being able to be outdoors during this summer of our discontent, has been the saving grace for many of us. I can’t remember a summer when I have fished more, and being able to do so with family and friends has been a blessing.
As with the rest of the world, I am ready to be done with the COVID stuff, but if we must stay in some sort of self-quarantine and stay socially-distanced, knowing that next week my dogs and I can head to the mountains and look for grouse, or spend some mornings sitting along the edge of a dove field, is extremely inviting. More so this year than ever before I believe.
With age comes a change in the mindset of many hunters and anglers. Now, just the idea of getting out there is enough to make a trip worth the effort. In my younger days, bagging a limit or catching a stringer full, was what made a trip successful. Now, though, especially in these times of pandemics, over-the-top politics, and big city riots, getting away from everything to enjoy some time in the outdoors is what keeps me sane.
Along with the first of the bird hunting seasons September also ushers in some big game hunting seasons in Washington state. Archery deer and elk hunting begins early in the month, with some muzzle-loader and high mountain hunts kicking off later around mid-September.
Hunters wanting more than just the chance to be outdoors, looking for some tasty, healthy meat for the table, should do a little scouting now so as to know where to go when the seasons open. This is especially true for big game. The deer and elk are in their summer ranges, higher in the mountains, and will most likely be there in a week or two, unless we get an unusual summer snow storm in the higher elevations.
The big game hunting prospects have yet to be released by the WDFW biologists, but an educated guess is that the deer numbers are still well below the desired population levels. And, based on the lowered number of special permits given out for this fall, the elk populations are also still below the desired numbers for our local herds.
Grouse scouting is always a good idea, if for no other reason than it gets you into the mountains at a beautiful time of year. Ruffed grouse normally can be found in the lower to mid-elevations, along the creeks in the Cascades. Blue grouse, now known as dusky grouse, are more likely to be found in the berry patches and along the windswept ridges of the higher elevations.
Some years there are lots of grouse around, and on other years, they’re more difficult to find. What this season will bring is still an unknown.
On most years doves will be pretty plentiful around the valley. Our hot summers with little rain work well for the nesting birds. Anecdotally, it looks like there may be more doves this year than last, but it is also an unknown. Spending some time out scouting before the season opens on September 1 will give a better idea what the prospects might be, and where you should be set up next Tuesday morning.
Fall chinook salmon fishing is just ramping up as the numbers of the salmon returning to the Columbia continue to climb over Bonneville Dam. Anglers are fishing for the upriver bright salmon at Drano Lake, at the mouth of the Klickitat, and the mouth of the Deschutes among other spots on the big river.
This year the regulations have changed and much of the fishing at those locations on the Columbia will close from September 9 to September 22 to all salmon fishing. This is a new rule change to help protect some runs of Snake River salmon moving upstream.
The Columbia above the Highway 395 bridge at Pasco, on up through the Hanford Reach will be open throughout the month of September, giving salmon anglers a place to fish.
And other waters remain open for trout fishing, walleye and bass fishing, and fishing for other species in almost all lakes and streams in Eastern Washington, so there are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy what can be ideal weather.
Just remember to throw on a sweatshirt early in the mornings, because the first indication that fall is coming in the breeze. It’s a bit chilling and very much anticipated.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org