The Northwest Washington Steelheaders are making final arrangements for their 2013 banquet and auction that's set for Saturday, March 9, at the Deming Logging Show Museum.
Because these functions can take considerable energy to organize and bring off, the club took last year off, but it is coming back with a big effort this year.
This is the now-independent sport-fishing group's primary annual fundraiser. Most of the proceeds will go to boost releases of hatchery winter-run steelhead smolts into the Nooksack River.
This club also continues the tradition of introducing young anglers to the pastime started in the 1950s by the Bellingham Sportsmen's Club by putting on the Bellingham Kids' Fishing Derby each May.
For more than three decades this club and its predecessor, the Whatcom Chapter, Northwest Steelhead and Salmon Council of Trout Unlimited, have supported hatchery production of salmon and steelhead for Nooksack and Samish river sport anglers.
In this group's noteworthy existence they:
? Spearheaded the conversion of Bellingham's old wastewater treatment plant at the mouth of Whatcom Creek into a fish rearing site that would later become a fully operating fish hatchery.
? Built a set of concrete raceways as well as small fiberglass rearing ponds at Bellingham Trout Hatchery.
? Helped put together and maintain net pens at Lake Whatcom Hatchery for juvenile steelhead.
? Built both temporary and permanent steelhead smolt acclimation ponds on Bell and Kinney creeks on the North Fork Nooksack.
? Aided in annual stocking efforts to maintain fishable steelhead and salmon runs in the Nooksack and Samish rivers.
? Most recently built and currently operate McKinnon Pond, a large steelhead rearing pond on the Middle Fork at Peat Bog Creek, which boosts overall winter-run steelhead production in the Nooksack.
Through the years, the club and its membership also have developed a cooperative program with Mount Baker High School's Advanced Natural Resources class, led by instructor Todd Rightmire, that among its broad range of outdoors-oriented coursework gives students firsthand experience in raising young fish.
STAYING THE COURSE
As greater demands are put on state agency funding, it becomes more difficult to maintain, let alone grow and improve, hatchery programs that provide recreational fishing opportunities.
The club by its presence, the support it mobilizes in Whatcom County as well as its annual monetary contribution serves notice that sport fishing is important here and that there is grassroots support for maintaining and even improving recreational fishing opportunities.
The existing winter steelhead program for the Nooksack consists of 70,000 fish raised at Kendall Creek Hatchery and another 40,000 fish reared at Maritime Heritage Center for release into lower Whatcom Creek to aid in future broodstock recruitment. These elements are the state's basic program.
Augmenting that is a group of up to 50,000 juvenile steelhead that are raised from fall to spring each year at the club's McKinnon Pond.
While the fish are always under the supervision of the state fish and wildlife's hatchery program, which pays for costs such as the required fin-clip marking, tanker transportation and fish health treatment, the club's money goes to purchase the specially formulated fish-food for these extra mouths.
Mount Baker High School students and club members regularly feed the fish and maintain the pond.
Without the club's annual donation, current Nooksack smolt plants would be reduced by more than 40 percent. If more state budget cuts are ordered, they could pare the program perilously close to a breaking point where it is terminated.
In that scenario, any local winter fishing opportunities likely would end, too.
THE EVENING'S AGENDA
This year's banquet and auction will follow the model that in 2011 raised $14,000. More than 225 people attended.
Doors will open at 4 p.m. to the museum hall of the Deming Logging Show grounds and attendees can immediately begin inspecting the array of donated goods and services, either tossing a ticket into the bucket raffle for an item or jotting down a bid if a particular prize is going via the silent auction.
This year's fundraiser also will include four firearms to be awarded by a special card draw.
Lids go on the raffle bucket bins throughout the event and will end quests for those random drawing giveaways. Winners will be plucked from each bucket throughout the evening as well as at the close of the event.
Dinner, including this year's main course of barbecued beef, will be served at 7 p.m. as the silent auction ends.
The live auction will take place after dessert.
GETTING IN THE DOOR
Banquet admission is $25 for singles and $45 for couples or double. Children under age 12 are admitted to the dinner free.
Early-bird ticket purchasers also will get $5 worth of raffle chits per person. Additional raffle tickets can be purchased at no limit at the door or on the floor before the 6:30 p.m. closure.
Tickets are on sale at Dave's Sporting Goods in Lynden, Yeager's Sporting Goods in Bellingham and Bailey's Tire Service in Everson. In addition, tickets can be secured by calling Dave Bailey at 360-966-3161, and individual club members also have tickets.
A limited number of dinner admissions also will be available at the door.
DONATING TO THE CAUSE
The club gratefully welcomes donations of new goods/products, art or a business service for raffle or auction at this fundraiser. Call Bailey if you can help.
UPCOMING RAZOR CLAM DIGS
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has set a tentative schedule for razor clam openings through March.
With digging under way in the second and final day of a weekend opening on Long Beach and Twin Harbors, diggers can plan for two more opportunities, March 7-11 and March 28-31, assuming that marine toxins in the clams remain below the human health safety thresholds.
"We try to announce future razor clam digs as far in advance as possible, so diggers can mark their calendars," said Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. "We expect to open some beaches for digging later in spring, but that depends on how many clams we will have available for harvest after the March openings."
WDFW will give the final go-ahead for each opening a week prior to these slated openings:
? Thursday, March 7, (evening tide) Twin Harbors.
? Friday, March 8, (evening tide) Twin Harbors.
? Saturday, March 9, (evening tide) Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks.
? Sunday, March 10, (evening tide on daylight savings time) Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks.
? Monday, March 11, (evening tide) Twin Harbors.
? Thursday, March 28, (morning tide) Twin Harbors.
? Friday, March 29, (morning tide) Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks.
? Saturday, March 30, (morning tide) Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, Mocrocks.
? Sunday, March 31, Sunday, (morning tide) Twin Harbors.
All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2012-13 fishing license to harvest razor clams on any of these beaches.
VOLUNTEER ADVISERS SOUGHT
Candidates are being sought to fill three vacancies on the Fish and Wildlife Commission's advisory committee for persons with disabilities and five open positions on WDFW's enforcement advisory group.
Both regional representation and "at-large" appointments will be made in this round.
For more information about the duties of these volunteer appointees, log onto http://wdfw.wa.gov/news/feb0613a/ (for the enforcement committee, deadline is Friday, Feb. 28) or http://wdfw.wa.gov/accessibility/ (for the disabilities advisory group, deadline is Sunday, March 10).
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.