Returning Samish River fall chinook are now heading up the tiny Skagit County stream with the run peaking perhaps some time toward the middle of September.
But there may be as few as 15 days remaining in the 2013 in-river salmon fishery.
After exhibiting decades of monumental tolerance of the excesses of angler behavior here including deliberate efforts to snag or foul-hook these fish, traipsing onto private property along the river unbidden and a host of other sometimes disgusting violations of sportsmanship and decorum, the state fish and wildlife department has put this fishery and its practicianers on probation.
And no, it's not the Dean Wormer of Faber double-secret kind. In this year's regulations package is an overt notice of closure that's set for Sunday, Sept. 8.
Only if they're satisfied that a majority of the corps of offending anglers have changed their ways will Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials issue an emergency order reopening the lower Samish to salmon fishing.
I should hasten to add that with many hunting and fishing endeavors it's often a minority or small percentage of participants that deliberately and overtly flout the rules.
Conducted in the wide open farmlands in front of residents, passersby and landowners the Samish seems to have more than the usual number of miscreants taking part and their excesses do stand out more readily.
Many anglers strive to abide by the rules and even voice appropriate peer pressure, but there also seems to be a mob-like breakdown of morals that occasionally washes through a tightly packed crowd of fishers.
Sending fish and wildlife officers into the area to watch over and leverage proper behavior is as big a waste of valuable law enforcement time as say babysitting snow goose hunters on Fir Island.
The question remains: will the next two weeks be the swan song of this fishery or will a born-again cadre of 2013 Lower Samish anglers get an encore?
Between now and then, if you want to help paint Samish anglers in a good light, you can follow the simple rules for gear and its presentation, get permission or pay the fee to enter the citizen-owned lands along the river, park appropriately along public roads and police litter before its becomes an eyesore.
WDFW fishery managers have given ample warning of this last chance.
Admonitions to fish legally both spoken and in the rules, the requests to stop trespassing and defecating on private property and quit parking in driveways are all part of a year-in, year-out mantra that has accompanied this fishery.
In recent years managers tried the tack of crafting evermore arcane regulations describing terminal tackle and how it should be fished, trying to get the message home.
Several decades back a local outdoors club, the Wildcat Steelhead Club of Sedro-Woolley, donned volunteer caps and patrolled the banks as extra eyes and ears for Fisheries Patrol to try to quell snagging. That worked but it was a prodigious effort for a group of people who themselves like to fish, probably elsewhere.
Now, like exasperated parents, officials have reduced the rhetoric and cut the verbage in the rules down to some simple points:
Only keep fish that are hooked inside the mouth.
Use only one hook and don't fish in the dark.
They've also gone one step further in the hopes of reaching enough anglers to see redemption, here.
In a change of medium for this message, District Fish Biologist Brett Barkdull and a colleague, Lead Warmwater Fish Biologist Danny Garrett, who doubles as videographer for the department, have put together a four-minute video summarizing Lower Samish fall chinook fishery, its dilemma as well as a great tutorial on how to fish for Samish kings both effectively and legally.
It's posted on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwGiaKCVHHE.
In the video Barkdull shows a selection of single-point hook equipped spinning lures and an array of jigs together with egg clusters, rigged both as free- or bobber-drifted offerings, all of which can be lawfully fished with great success in these waters.
This latest ultra modern media approach has, so far, gotten more than 1,300 views and a number of comments, since its posting Aug. 8. Now it's up to the fishers.
BELL TO RING FOR HUNTER ED
Finding an old-fashion three- or four-day classroom Washington hunter education course this time of year that still has seats available is tough.
It's nearly as hard to find an open field evaluation session, the second step in certification that's required of on-line hunter ed course takers in which they must demonstrate actual firearms handle skills.
Early age safety training and education has been a mandatory part of the hunting experience since the late 1940s and early 1950s.
That changed in the 1990s when legal pre-requisites for obtaining a Washington hunting license were modified by the Legislature. Since then anyone, regardless of age, born after Jan. 1, 1972, in order to get their first-ever Washington hunting license must present proof of having taken and successfully passed a certified hunter education course.
Before then adults did not have to pass the class.
The current licensing sales system makes no exceptions and over-the-counter dealers are not allowed to issue a hunting license without laying eyes on a hunter education certificate, whether a card from Washington or from another state.
Washington's system offers four training categories: basic classroom hunter education, basic online hunter education, trapper classroom education and bowhunter classroom or on-line education, though only the first three are honored in the Evergreen State for first-time licensee purchases.
In the Internet-based hunter ed system there are two components: self-directed on-line course of training and the field practicum, both of which must be successfully navigated to earn a certificate.
Though not required in Washington, completion of an archery-focused hunter training course often is required in other states as a requisite for bowhunter permits. Washington's system through an agreement with the Washington State Archery Association, Washington State Bowhunters and Traditional Bowhunters of Washington, includes these organized training offerings so citizens here can get certification valid and required in other states without having to travel great distances.
WHERE TO GET SCHOOLED
The question on the minds of many in hunting house-holds in need of the hunter ed certificate is where can the training and testing be had at this late date.
? Basic hunter ed, the classroom: A quick scan of WDFW's statewide registry of formally scheduled traditional classroom offerings finds most, including the one here in Whatcom County, filled. Many have waiting lists.
The closest of these old-school type courses with seats available as of Saturday, Aug. 24 is at Coupeville on Whidbey Island.
These classes are taught by certified instructors in three to four sessions over about 16 hours of total class time with many including firearms practice/shooting time. Upon completion and passing of the written test a certificate card will be issued.
There's no lower age cut-off for participants however, students under the age of 12 may have to have a parent or guardian's written permission to take the class.
There are indications that more courses yet to be set up and registered with WDFW could still be offered in this area. It'll be necessary to regularly check for them on WDFW's website.
Registration for any class may only be done online at WDFW's website once it is formally posted. You cannot enroll and reserve a seat directly with the individual or group sponsoring or offering it.
? Basic hunter ed, over the Internet: The online basic hunter ed offering is the most readily available, but be aware that this is a two-part process leading to certification.
Part one is Internet-based and is self-directed, meaning it can be accomplished as quickly or slowly as the student wishes. There is a fee payable for this mode when you successfully pass the exam but before you get the confirmation.
Part two of this process is the field practicum and requires finding and enrolling in a one-day one- to six-hour obligatory face-to-face evaluation usually done on a shooting range. It has a written test plus the live fire section in which the student must demonstrate safe, effective handling of the firearm.
OTHER HUNTER ED ELEMENTS
? Out-of-state HE certificates: Washington honors valid HE completion certificates issued in other states. Originals or validated duplicates must be presented to license dealers.
? Duplicate certificates: Mis-placed Washington hunter education completion documents can be replaced for a fee of $8. It takes a minimum of two weeks for mail-in request processing for theses replacement documents. A form, available from WDFW, must be completed and sent in. It may be possible to get a temporary certificate by going to a WDFW regional office, the closest to Bellingham is the Mill Creek Region 4 headquarters.
? Active service waivers: For persons currently on active duty military service in Washington, if they don't have an HE course certificate from elsewhere, they must take the course here. However, if they choose the online route, they can get a waiver or exemption from having to attend and pass a field evaluation. A short application form plus proof of military service, letter from a unit commander, must be sent in.
? One-year deferrals: In 2007 the Legislature passed a measure allowing for a one-time, one-year postponement of the necessity to fulfill the hunter education requirement. During this period, to hunt the deferral holder must at all times when hunting be in the close (visual and voice range) company of a legally licensed (for the past three years) Washington adult hunter. This dispensation costs $20 and, along with the purchase of the hunting license, must be transacted through the WDFW Olympia Headquarters Licensing Office. An application form is available online and must be accompanied by photo documentation of the applicant's identity as well as information positively identifying the mentor hunter.
The deferral route may be taken only once and to get a first-timer Washington hunting license in the future, the hunter education task must be completed.
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://pbogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.