Under the Open Sky: Have You Heard? It’s Snowing

We all want what we can’t get (the lurid lure of the unattainable), it’s just human nature.

I can’t seem to get a winter-run steelhead landed, but I can’t stop smiling.

Snow, new birds, new floats, good neighbors and the chance for new fish (once the water starts cooperating), life is good!

I may have had more fishing success at the Barrier Dam on the Cowlitz River during fall salmon season, but I’m enjoying this winter-run salmon season just as much — maybe even more.

If you are a regular reader of my weekly column, you already know that I have pursued this elusive aquatic beast for weeks without success.

I’ve talked about it with my fellow fish-addled friends. I’ve read about it on websites, in magazines and books. I’ve hiked into Blue Creek at 3 a.m. searching for it. I’ve switched lures and baits and rigs a thousand times, hoping to tempt it. I’ve seen it hauled in on other angler’s lines, I even felt one hit my own line a time or two. But I’ve yet to haul one in of my own.

And when my neighbor called with an offer to go fishing, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

(We have some of the best neighbors in Lewis County here in Cinebar, they’re a generous and giving bunch. Just ask John Donaldson, if you don’t believe me, his neighbor plowed out his driveway this week.)

Fishing guide Steven Bean was already known to me, but I didn’t know (until we met) that it was him that I had heard about.

Bean has guided friends Warren and Helen Webster (a pair of Oregon residents and hunting dog enthusiasts who have camped in my backyard every August for as long as I can remember) for years. They talked up a storm about how much fun they have, riding the river with Steve on his jet sled.

It’s a small world.

I ran into Dave Towner, of Mossyrock, Friday afternoon as he was checking out the fishing at Blue Creek. We talked fishing and fishing guides. He said he had started fishing the Cowlitz River about ten years ago, he recommends going with a guide.

“You can go in blind and get lucky,” Towner said, “but a guide will teach you everything you need to know.”

I’d have to say I agree, I learned a lot from Bean, I can’t wait to get a chance to put my new knowledge to work.

The Word on Birds

I added a few new birds to my lift list while drifting the Cowlitz River — Barrow’s Goldeneye duck and the American Dipper.

I don’t have any clear photos of either one, but I do have the memory of their beautifully unique sounds.

The goldeneye’s wings whistle as they fly. We startled pairs of goldeneyes from cover at several points along the river. They’re an elegantly clad duck; I look forward to my next “hunt” for this river duck.

The American Dipper we found was heard long before he was seen.

It was just moments after I snapped the photo of guide Steven Bean turning to see the sun peek out from the clouds (see today’s feature) when we were nearly assaulted with by loud birdsong.

That little bird sang and sang and sang his little heart out while we searched the shoreline, trying to figure out where all the noise was coming from. When we finally spotted him, we were amazed to see that such a small bird had made so much noise.

Visit my blog to see the little bird, learn more about this amazing winter-equipped-for-survival river bird and see more photos from my drift on the Cowlitz River.

Also new to The (Almost) Daily Bird (http://blogs.chronline.com/dailybird) is a series of six blog posts featuring local birds and local bird feeders in the snow.

There is an oddly-colored American Robin haunting Ron Hinzpeter’s yard near Chehalis. Mr. Hinzpeter said the bird has the normal red breast of a Robin, but where he should be grey, he’s white! I would like to get a photo of the bird, but the white stuff on the road has kept me home.

I am beyond jealous of Janet McCurry of Silver Creek, who has a Varied Thrush coming to her bird feeder. I have only seen the Varied Thrush as he dashes between the highest branches of the woodlands in my backyard. Perhaps I can wrangle an invitation to visit Ms. McCurry’s feeder after the snow melts.

Leah Wegener of Centralia has been visited daily by an Anna’s Hummingbird. I am so glad to hear she has a kind friend willing to refuel her, especially in this cold, cold weather.

Dawn McHugh has a new camera and made a visit to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge the same Sunday afternoon as my granddaughter, son and I. Her photo of an American Bittern, however, was so superior to mine that they almost don’t look like the same bird! I’ll see if she’ll allow me to share the photograph on The (Almost) Daily Bird blog.

A raccoon was caught raiding the bird feeders at my house late Tuesday night. I don’t usually like to see, hear or even know about those critters hanging around (I’m scared my elderly Border Collie is just brave enough to try and take one on!), but I felt sorry for him. I made the raccoon an almond butter sandwich and set it outside.

Crazy.

Future Winter-Run Steelheading Trips

I ran into river guide Johnny Munez, of Olympia, at the end of the day on Friday. His jet sled was one of the few that had any fish on it, so of course I had to haul out my camera and take a photograph.

We’ve since struck up a conversation and made friends on Facebook. He has offered to take me for a ride when the B-run comes in, sometime later this month or the next.

Munez is just 23 years old, but has 5 years of guiding experience behind him already. He had a full set of happy customers Friday afternoon; it was their fourth trip with Munez.

“These guys have gone with me before, so they know the drill,” Munez said. “Once they get in the boat they’re all business.”

They spent just five hours to land five fish and walked away with a quartet of grins.

Riding the river on a jet sled will be a whole new experience for me; I look forward to telling you about it.

In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to haul a steelhead up on the bank on my own — after the river calms down a bit.

“Fish on!” keep the birds fed, and be careful out there, my friends.

•••

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer and Outdoors enthusiast who lives in Cinebar. Visit her photography blog, The (Almost) Daily Bird (blogs.chronline.com/dailybird), follow her on Twitter (ChronKim) or on facebook (Kimberly Mason — The Chronicle). Contact her at kz@tds.net, text or call 269-5017.