Trout-fishing mania begins with statewide lowland lakes opener April 28-29

A happy angler in 2017 landed this large trout on opening day at West Medical Lake in Spokane. Look for plenty of fun in hundreds of statewide lakes on the April 28-29 opener that will also carry on into spring, summer and beyond. Photo courtesy of Bruce Boulding at WDFW.

Spring is marker when the sun rises earlier and earlier over the eastern horizon, the days are getting a lot longer, the flowers and trees are blooming and so are the trout fishing opportunities.

Thousands and thousands of anglers are prepping their fishing gear for the traditional statewide lowland lakes trout opener on April 28-29.

Anglers will be happy to know the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) hatchery crews have been busy prepping more than 500 statewide lakes and ponds that will be planted with a whopping 16,840,269 trout.

“We have been busy with spring trout plants and our projected plant is 461,100 for this region (Puget Sound area lakes, plus 5,728,993 fingerling planted in 2017),” said Justin Spinelli, a WDFW biologist in Mill Creek. “We will have a good spring and summer trout fishing and an excellent transition to warm water fishing later in the summer.”

Several years ago, WDFW concocted a cost-effective way to produce larger catchable-sized trout in hatcheries, which has been well-received by anglers surveyed on previous openers.

The updated standardized size of the trout is about 11 inches compared to 8-inches in previous seasons. Just like in 2017, anglers should find 2,171,307 catchable-sized trout lurking around in lakes.

Opening day of fishing season on Pine Lake produced this nice catch of rainbow trout.

Another 124,133 “jumbo” trout measuring 14 or more inches long and one pound or larger in weight will also be going into hundreds of statewide lakes.

Add to that another 12.9 million of trout fry, fingerlings and smaller-sized trout stocked last spring and fall, which should now be 8 to 12 inches long and you’ve got a great chance to bring some home for dinner.

The survival rate of fingerlings largely depends on water conditions, and this winter wasn’t too cold and with enough feed this spring look for these fish to be fattening up in time for the opener. A good number of Eastern Washington lakes see very good fry survival and are usually the main source of the catch during spring time.

In King County, 12 lakes will be stocked with trout for opening day. They are Cottage, 12,000 trout (2.2 fish per rod average last year on opening day – five trout is a daily limit); Geneva, 5,500 (4.6); Langlois, 5,000 (2.8); Margaret, 5,000, plus 9,000 cutthroat fry last fall (4.6); Mill Pond, 900; North, 9,500 (4.6); Old Fishing Hole, 250; Pine, 12,000 (3.3); Shady, 3,400; Steel, 8,000 (4.9); Walker, 2,500 (2.1); and Wilderness, 12,000 (2.7).

Elsewhere in the Puget Sound region, seven lakes in Pierce County will be stocked for opening day; four in Skagit County; 12 in Snohomish County; six in Whatcom County; four in Grays Harbor County; three in Thurston County; seven in Kitsap County; three in Pacific County; two in Island County; six in Jefferson County; seven in Kitsap County; 17 in Mason County; and one in San Juan Island County.

Other notable lakes during last year’s opener were – Island County: Deer, 3.4. Skagit County: Erie, 4.2; Heart, 2.6; McMurray, 3.3; and Stevens, 6.2 (catch average was over the legal limit). Snohomish County: Bosworth, 3.4; Howard, 3.5; Ki, 3.4; Martha AM, 4.2; Serene, 3.0; and Wagner, 3.6. Whatcom County: Cain, 3.9; and Toad, 3.2. Pierce County: Bay, 4.9; and Clear, 3.09. Thurston County: Clear, 3.07; Hicks, 3.03; Pattison, 3.76; and Summit, 3.69. Lewis County: Carlisle, 4.25; and Mineral, 2.7.

In Eastern Washington the top lakes were Cedar, 4.59 and Waitts, 3.13 in Stevens County; Jameson, 2.26 in Douglas County; and Wapato, 4.62 in Chelan County.

For anglers who can’t wait and want to get a jump start on trout fishing, there are hundreds of lakes open year-round and many were recently stocked.

Locally, try Alice, Angle, Beaver, Desire, Green, Rattlesnake, Meridian, Morton, Spring, Twelve and Sawyer in King County; Ballinger, Tye, Blackmans, Flowing, Chain, Gissburg Ponds, Goodwin, Ketchum, Lost, Martha, Panther, Roesiger, Shoecraft and Silver in Snohomish. Spencer and Island in Mason County. St. Clair and Black in Thurston County. Tanwax, Spanaway and Bonney in Pierce County. Snag and Western in Pacific County.

A downer for anglers seeking bigger fish is no triploid plants will occur statewide due to budget constraints by WDFW during this biennium, which extends not only for 2018 but 2019 as well.

“The big change to our spring trout fishing season is there will not be any jumbo triploid plants as we identified a big hole in our budget,” said Steve Thiesfeld, the WDFW inland fish program manager.

“In the end we needed to make a few million dollars in reductions and one was the triploid program for the biennium,” Thiesfeld said. “Hopefully we will have a better go at for the next round although that next round won’t occur until this biennium ends as of June of 2019. We hope to have some relief after that point.”

“The triploid program is a direct purchase we do from Trout Lodge (a private fish growing company) and it was an efficient way to cut a program. It is always a difficult thing to take a piece of something that has been a success for our spring trout fisheries.”

In past year, like 2017 a total of 42,000 triploid trout averaging 1½ pounds apiece were planted for the opener into west side lakes. Triploids are sterile trout that can grow rapidly during their first year.

Thiesfeld also said another popular fishing hole – Summit Lake in Thurston County – will see a significant plant reduction for opening day because of the toxic algae bloom that occurred last year. The lake could receive plants later in the season if the algae bloom isn’t an issue.

“We lost a good chunk of our fishing season in 2017 due to the algae bloom,” Thiesfeld said. “From a business perspective we annually stock Summit with 38,000 trout at $1.6-dollar per fish. Then if we don’t get to fish on them it is a big financial loss. We do plan to stick those trout into other Thurston County lakes and are hopeful the algae bloom is just a one-year thing. Hopefully everything will get back to a normal stocking plan in 2019 and folks will need to be prepared for not a great catch of trout at Summit this season.”

How to catch trout

Gear: This isn’t a complicated fishery and all one needs to get started is a basic rod-and-reel combo that will cost $30 to $50, and an upper-end set-up is $80 to $200. The length of a fishing pole should be 6 to 7 feet, and relatively light, in the 4- to 10-pound range. Look for a medium-sized spinning reel that can hold more than 100 yards of 6-pound test fishing line.

Bait dunkers should attach a number 9 egg sinker and a small barrel swivel. The length of leader is where many get confused, and the store-bought pre-tied leaders are way too short. Leaders should be 3- to 6-pound test and 20 to 30 inches long. For hooks keep them on the smaller size, and try a No. 14 or 16 treble hook or an egg hook in a size 8 or 10.

Baits and flies: The old-school baits are nightcrawler worm, salmon eggs and scented marshmallows, but soft dough baits are the rage like Berkley Power Baits that come in all sorts of colors and varieties.

The most common early-season fly pattern is a black or black-olive colored Woolly Bugger in a size 8 or 10 attached to a 5- or 6-foot leader and trolled weightless close to the surface.

Boat anglers should troll small spoons like a Dick Nite, Triple Teaser, Luhr Jensen Super Duper, wedding ring or a gang-flasher with a worm, maggot or salmon egg laced with a tiny piece of scented dough bait.

Tactics: Stocked trout tend to school near the surface, and most will congregate right around where the hatchery trucked dumped them usually near shoreline, boat ramps and docks. Trout will stay just under the surface in 3 to 5 feet of water before acclimating to their new surroundings and moving into deeper areas of the lake.

Fishing license: A fishing license is mandatory (kids under 15 fish for free) as well as a Discover Pass. Details: http://wdfw.wa.gov.

Fishing tips and advice

The WDFW website offers a wealth of information. Go to “Fish Washington” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/washington/, and “Great Washington Getaways” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/vacation/.

New “App” should boost information process

WDFW has introduced a new mobile app that should be very helpful and a quick way to obtain up to date fishing information including regulations for all Washington waters.

“The Fish Washington App will be able to help anglers identify where they’re at and what fishing opportunities are nearby and offer access sites and regulations associated with those waters,” Spinelli said. “Anglers should definitely give it a try right now to see the benefits of what this app has to offer.”

The free app is available on Google Play, Apple’s App store and at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/washington/mobile_app.html.

The exception, for now, is the app does not yet include information on shellfish and seaweed collection rules. It does contain an interactive map-based rules to help anglers find fishing near them; details on harvest limits and allowable gear for fishable species in each body of water; links to the Fish Washington website and instructional videos designed to convey when, where and how to fish in Washington; locations of boat launches and other fishing access points; and ability to add waypoints on maps, and report poaching in progress.

It also has downloadable updates and offline capacity designed for those who may not have cell service in remote areas or on the water.

This is just one of the stepping stones WDFW is trying to make for anglers, and others include ongoing efforts to simplify fishing rules and redesign of the department’s website.

Future plans include electronic sportfishing catch record cards and a comparable mobile hunting application.

WDFW Derby begins April 28

The statewide trout derby starts on April 28 through Oct. 31, and WDFW raved about the success in 2017 with more than 50 percent tags turned in statewide.

“The tags turned in was a little higher than that in the Puget Sound region,” Spinelli said. “In my professional opinion that is a great return rate on tagged fish. That is nice to see lots of our tagged fish are getting caught and doesn’t include all the untagged fish you have to weed through to get to those tagged fish.”

More money has been diverted into this five-month event for 2018 with about $38,000 in donated prizes and more than 1,000 tags of which one-third of the tags (300 total) will placed in 22 Region 4 lakes.

“The great part of that is Region 4 has more people in that urban environment with a whole slug of tags and they don’t have to travel very far to find the tagged fish,” Thiesfeld said.

“Prizes will range from gift cards to fishing gear like rods and reels, plus there is also on tag lurking in a lake that offers getaway to the Roche Harbor Resort in the San Juan Islands.

“We haven’t finalized which lakes just yet will get the tagged fish and we plan to market the derby very soon on the website,” Spinelli said.

For details on the derby, go to https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/Home/FishingDerby.

 

 

 

Kokanee and Walleye Head Up the Best Prospects for Spring

Lance Effrig hefts a two-fish limit of kokanee taken on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

By Dave Graybill 

A couple of years ago I said that Lake Chelan for kokanee and Banks Lake for walleye would share the spotlight for spring fishing in our region. Well, last year the fishing at both of these lakes was even better than I had anticipated. This year I think that they both will be even better.

Let’s start with Lake Chelan. Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party at Lake Chelan. Fishing for kokanee was good last season, with limits of 12- to 14-inch fish very common. The fishing didn’t slow down and limits were being taken throughout the winter on Chelan. Even better news is that the fish are bigger. Kokanee of 13 and 14 inches dominated the catches this winter, with some 15-inch fish sprinkled in. By late spring and summer we should see many kokanee of 16 inches and even larger being taken. Things are looking up for a spectacular season for kokanee anglers on Chelan.

The wind was howling but the kokanee were biting near 25 Mile Creek on Lake Chelan. (photo Dave Graybill)

I was out in January with Lance Effrig, of Washington Guide Services, and we got 20 fish that day, and even hit a quadruple once. A few years ago this would have been unheard of, but now it is expected on Chelan. We got our fish above the Yacht Club and at a variety of depths. When we hit the quad we had a rod at 125 feet, another at 100, one more at 80 and the last at 60. They all went off at the same time!

Effrig is a man of my same bent. He fishes Kokabow Fishing Tackle pretty much exclusively. These blades, spinners and squid rigs are deadly. I haven’t seen a blade with as much “kick” as the Kokabow, and the kokanee seem to like the spinners and squid rigs about equally. Effrig trolls fast, especially when looking for fish. He will cook along at 1.8 to 2.0 mph at times. He uses a 20-inch leader as a result. I myself usually troll at 1.5 to 1.7 and use a 14 inch leader. Both of us tip our hooks with stained shoe peg corn. We both will start out with a different blade on each rod and then switch until if we think the kokanee are preferring one color over another.

This is a winning combo for kokanee on Lake Chelan: A Kokabow blade and squid, tipped with stained corn. (photo Dave Graybill)

I got this 22-inch walleye on a recent trip to Banks Lake, on a green and blue butterfly blade. (photo Dave Graybill)

I have fished as far up on Chelan at 25 Mile Creek to find kokanee this late winter and as the water warms the main schools will head further down the lake. By late April and May anglers should be finding them in the area of Rocky Point and the Blue Roofs. Soon after that they will be off Chelan Shores and Lakeside Park.

In the early season I expect the main schools to be found around 100 feet down. Later on they will be available in shallower depths. Last season I was fishing with 3- to 4-ounce lead balls on a sliding rig and got limits doing this.

Hang on folks. It’s going to be a kokanee fishing party on Lake Chelan this season!

The walleye fishing on Banks Lake got a later start than usual. It froze from one end to the other and didn’t clear off until April. When the ice did clear off the fishing was great. This year it didn’t freeze and there were limits of nice walleye being taken in February. I expect the walleye fishing to be something special this season.

So far the fish have been deep in the chilly water on Banks. Anglers were pulling worm harnesses or Slow Death Hook rigs down 50 feet. The fish will be moving into more shallow water soon, and these same rigs will produce good catches. I have had great luck already this season with the new Butterfly Blade from Northland Tackle. This blade is nothing like anything else on the market and I would fish it either on a worm harness or a Super Slow Death Hook. For Banks I suggest using blades in shades of blue.

Another really fun and effective way to catch walleye on Banks is with crank baits. My brother Rick and I had many days on Banks when we limited trolling cranks. If you haven’t tried this before better give it a go this season. Get yourself a selection of Flicker Shads and Shad Raps in a variety of colors that dive from 8 to 20 feet and troll them at 2.0 to 2.2 mph. Put them at 75 to 100 feet behind the boat and hang on! When they hit these plugs your rod really bends.

Anglers will start fishing Banks behind Steamboat Rock, and then as the water warms move onto Barker Flats. The fishing inside Devils Punchbowl can also be good in the spring. The walleye will be found off the edges of the weed beds, picking off small bait fish. This can be frustrating, as you will be picking weeds off your baits constantly, but it is worth it.

Trolling worm harnesses and Slow Death Hook rigs will often be the best approach in the early season. The spawn should occur in late April or sometime in May, depending on water temperature. After the spawn the fish will be hungry and aggressive. Crank bait fishing will kick in then and boy is it fun.

Anglers should expect to catch walleye of over 17 inches this season. There should be quite a few fish over 20 inches this year. My daughter caught a 30-incher in Devils Punchbowl in early June two years ago, so some really big walleye can come from Banks Lake. Some of the shallow bays, like Jones, can be productive with crank baits, even in the early season, and the north end, where the canal enters Banks can also be a place to find good numbers of walleye.

There is a lot of water on Banks, so there is plenty of room for lots of anglers. The most popular launch is at Northrup, which has two docks and lots of parking. Don’t forget to have your Discover Pass.

I had a great time on Banks Lake last year, so expect to see me when you’re out there!

Dave Graybill
North Central Washington Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

2018 Salmon Season’s Set

by Jason Brooks

North of Falcon has finished up and now we know what to expect for our salmon season’s this year. Like a tide change during a wind storm, it all depends on how you look at the opportunities, either a turbulent crashing of waves or a few rollers to cause a little nausea. Either way most of the seasons are borderline okay to good with a few that might have some anglers foregoing their annual plans. One thing is certain and that is this year the various fisheries agencies as well as the tribes involved came to an agreement that all of our salmon runs need to be carefully monitored and cared for.

For all of the details check out the announcement by WDFW North of Falcon Season Setting. But here is a quick rundown on some of the more popular fisheries.

Grant Blinn with a Westport Marine Area 2 Chinook. This year it opens July 1st-Jason Brooks

Ocean Opener’s

Westport (Area 2) won’t open until July 1st with a weekly schedule of fishing only Sunday through Thursday. June 23rd is the opener for Marine Areas 1, 3, and 4 and all of ocean areas close on September 3rd or until the quota is met. WDFW announced, “The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a recreational chinook catch quota of 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.” All wild Coho must be released. A two salmon limit but only one Chinook per day in Areas 1,2, and 4.

South Sound anglers will have more opportunities for Chinook in Marine Area’s 11 & 13-Jason Brooks

Puget Sound

Marine Area 9 is due to open in July with a chinook quota of 5,563 fish. Marine Area 10 is going to open for Coho in mid-June and the chinook retention season will open in mid-July with a 4,743 chinook quota which is more than last year. Marine Areas 11 and 13, known as the South Sound, will have good to great season as the south Puget Sound rivers are expected to have higher returns of chinook and coho. Area 11 will have a salmon season opening in June with a marked chinook retention and a non-marked or marked coho fishery. Area 13 will be open year around but both chinook and coho must be clipped.

Buoy 10 will be a short three week season with a one fish per day limit-Jason Brooks

Buoy 10

Anglers from all over the Northwest make their pilgrimage to the famed Buoy 10 fishery. This year it will be a short season and possibly a short day on the water with a “one salmonid” per day limit. This includes chinook, clipped Coho or clipped steelhead. It’s a “one and done” limit but earlier this spring rumors abound of limited days per week closures similar to Marine Area 2. That didn’t happen but the season is opening on August 1st and closing on August 24th from below Rocky Point/Tongue Point.

The circus of a fishery on the Skokomish River won’t happen again this year as WDFW and the Tribe continue to dispute the boundary-Jason Brooks

Skokomish River

Once again there will be no fishing on the Skokomish River. Regardless of what side you fall on regarding hating this fishery or loving it; this river is one of the very few with an over-abundance of hatchery chinook. The fish are all off limits to anglers once they hit the river as the boundary dispute continues between WDFW and the Skokomish Tribe.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

 

 

Halibut sport quotas set and season starts May 11, and salmon season process meeting is Tuesday

The halibut catch quotas were finalized this past week, and anglers can start making plans to pursue these hard-fighting bottom dwellers when the season gets underway on May 11 off the coast and open areas of Puget Sound.

“The catch quota of 1.19-million pounds (for sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial fisheries) was adopted in Catch Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California),” said Heather Reed, the state Fish and Wildlife policy coordinator who also mentioned success last year was good in all marine areas open for halibut fishing.

Last year, the catch quota in Area 2A was 1.33-million, and 1.14-million in 2016.

The total Washington sport catch quota this season is 225,366 pounds, down a bit from 237,762 in 2017, and a bump up from 214,110 in 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A breakdown of sport catch quota is 11,182 pounds for the all-depth fishery off Ilwaco (Marine Catch Area 1) with another 500 pounds set aside for a near-shore fishery.

At Westport (Area 2) it is 44,341 pounds for the primary season and 2,000 pounds for a near-shore fishery. At Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) the quota is 111,632 pounds. In Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound (Areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10) the season total is 60,995 pounds.

The halibut fishing dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound are May 11 and 13, and May 25 and 27. Other potential dates – depending on harvest totals – are June 7, 9, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30.

The Westport near-shore fishery will open first Saturday after the closure of the primary fishery and be open daily until the quota is projected to be taken.

The opening date at Ilwaco is May 3 for the all-depth fishery. Fishing will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays only, and closes Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved, whichever comes first. The Ilwaco near-shore season opens May 7, and fishing allowed Mondays through Wednesdays only.

In all areas the daily limit is one halibut with no minimum size limit.

A change in how fishing seasons were structured occurred in 2017 to avoid exceeding catch quotas in Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound waterways.

Reed says this new guidance and more consistent season has allowed the sport allocation to stay within the guidelines set forth, something that hadn’t been accomplished for several years.

The average size of halibut last year at Neah Bay and La Push was 18 pounds; Ilwaco, 14 pounds; Westport, 16 pounds; and Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound, 24 pounds.

The most popular fishing area is the northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push at Swiftsure Bank located 10 to 14 miles west of Cape Flattery; Blue Dot; 72 Square; Table Top; the Prairie; Umatilla Reef; Garbage Dump; Waadah Island; and Duncan Rock.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca try off the mouth of the Sekiu River and Hoko River; Eagle Bay; Clallam Bay; Slip Point; Whiskey Creek; Freshwater Bay; Green Point east of Port Angeles; and Rock Pile north of Ediz Hook.

Good underwater shelfs where halibut tend to hug the bottoms are Coyote, Hein, Middle, Eastern and Partridge banks as well as inner-waterways like Mutiny Bank, Bombing Range, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Admiralty Bay on west side of Whidbey Island; and Useless Bay.

Once you get your fill of halibut, be sure to get your fill of black rockfish and lingcod, which opened on March 10 at Ilwaco, Westport and La Push. Neah Bay is also open for bottomfish fishing except the lingcod fishery opens April 16.

Deckhand Johnny Zelepuza on the charter boat Slammer hoists a 30 pound lingcod caught off Westport.

The black rockfish population remains strong off the coast. A spike in the canary rockfish population will also allow sport anglers to keep one daily off Ilwaco and Westport only as part of an anglers seven rockfish daily limit. Fishing for canary rockfish is still off limits at La Push and Neah Bay.

Sport anglers may keep all lingcod regardless of their size. Anglers should also be aware of certain depth restrictions in coastal deep-water lingcod fisheries.

Sport anglers who pursue halibut and bottomfish are now required to carry a descending device onboard their boat in all marine areas, including the coast.

Descending devices are used to release rockfish back to the depth and improve their survival when released. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/bottomfish/rockfish/mortality.html.

North of Falcon salmon meeting is Tuesday

A little more than a week remains before state fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council develop final salmon fishing seasons for Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and coast.

In a move to create more transparency in the process the state and tribal co-managers on Tuesday’s North of Falcon meeting will offer an open joint session where the public can take part at 1 p.m. at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. West.

The discussion will cover a variety of topics on salmon-related issues including conservation objectives for Puget Sound chinook salmon, habitat restoration efforts and salmon fisheries. The public will be invited to ask questions after brief opening remarks by the state and tribal co-managers.

”We are working very hard on the (NOF) process and have the commitment from our co-managers to have a better understanding of salmon issues and to work together on getting to an agreement even though we have our own differences,” said Ron Warren, the WDFW assistant director.

In the first North of Falcon meeting on March 20, an early “wish list” of fisheries were created with the emphasis put on being cautious on some wild salmon returns that have fallen into the poor status category.

One highlight is hopefully getting a Puget Sound coho fishing in late-summer and early-fall, which has faced some tough times in recent years due to very poor returns. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu and Port Angeles could also see a hatchery coho season from July through mid-September.

For hatchery-marked chinook, a proposed fishery Sekiu and Port Angeles would see it open from July through mid-August. Then reopen at Sekiu mid-March 2019 through April and at Port Angeles from March 2019 through April 2019.

Northern Puget Sound is earmarked for the normal mid-July through mid-August hatchery-marked chinook fishery as well as from December through April 2019.

A central Puget Sound hatchery-marked chinook fishery could happen from mid-July through August and November through April 2019. There also might be more time on the water in inner-Elliott Bay, a popular summer fishery right in front of the Emerald City skyline.

The south-central Puget Sound proposed hatchery-marked chinook season would go from June through April 2019.

The three sport ocean salmon fishing options show summer seasons will likely be somewhat slimmer than last year in the overall catch quotas as some salmon returns to the Columbia River are going to be down.

The final seasons will be adopted at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings on April 6-11 at Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way in Portland, Oregon.

In meantime public comment is being accepted on the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. You can also view a list of other public meetings as well as salmon run-size forecasts.

 

Preliminary salmon fishing options come to light, and Puget Sound anglers could see more time on the water

The sun rises over the horizon at Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend last weekend as anglers seek out hatchery chinook salmon.

State fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council developed ocean salmon fishing options, and some early work was made for Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca fisheries at meetings that ended last week in Sonoma, California.

Chinook and coho returns are still in the recovery phase after several grim years due to poor ocean conditions and drought-like weather.

”We are working very hard on the (NOF) process and have the commitment from our co-managers to have a better understanding of salmon issues and to work together on getting to an agreement even though we have our own differences,” said Ron Warren, the WDFW assistant director.

In Puget Sound, anglers will see somewhat negative or at least cautious views about chinook and coho returns. The Strait of Juan de Fuca and Snohomish coho returns have an “overfished” status, meaning that spawning escapement for these two stocks were below levels of concern for the past few years requiring a cautious approach to 2018 fisheries. However, in general the 2018 forecasts for Puget Sound chinook and coho look much better.

There are some very early concepts of sport salmon fishing possibilities that were drafted by state fisheries and reflects a “wish list” of what could happen when final seasons are approved in early April. All of the fisheries would need to be approved by various agencies as well as tribal co-managers.

One highlight if all the stars align would be Puget Sound coho fishing in late-summer and early-fall, which has faced some tough times in recent years due to very poor returns.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu (Marine Catch Area 5) and Port Angeles (Area 6) could see a hatchery coho season from July through mid-September.

In San Juan Islands (Area 7) the early proposal has a non-select coho fishery from July through September. The east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) for the moment has a proposed non-select coho fishery in August and September.

In northern Puget Sound (Area 9) the early proposal shows a hatchery coho season from mid-July through September. Central and south-central Puget Sound (Areas 10 and 11) could be non-select for coho from June through April of 2019.

In Hood Canal (Area 12) there is a non-select coho proposed from July through April 2019. Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) could be open for hatchery-marked coho from May through April 2019.

For hatchery-marked chinook, a proposed fishery Sekiu and Port Angeles would see it open from July through mid-August. Then reopen at Sekiu mid-March 2019 through April and at Port Angeles from March 2019 through April 2019.

The San Juan Islands could be open for hatchery-marked chinook in July and December through April 2019, and non-select chinook from August through September.

The east side of Whidbey Island could be open for hatchery-marked chinook from December through April 2019. There would also be a summer-time terminal salmon fishery at Tulalip Bay.

Northern Puget Sound is earmarked for the normal mid-July through mid-August hatchery-marked chinook fishery as well as from December through April 2019.

A central Puget Sound hatchery-marked chinook fishery could happen from mid-July through August and November through April 2019. There also might be more time on the water in inner-Elliott Bay, a popular summer fishery right in front of the Emerald City skyline.

The south-central Puget Sound proposed hatchery-marked chinook season would go from June through April 2019.

Hood Canal north of Ayock Point could be open for hatchery-marked chinook from October through April 2019, and south of Ayock Point could be open from July through April 2019.

In southern Puget Sound the proposal has it open for hatchery-marked chinook from May through April 2019.

Sport ocean salmon fisheries also came to light at the PFMC meeting, and here is some insight below as to what occurred in the early process phase.

Fishery managers are now in the process of figuring out how much each of the four marine areas – Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay – will get to catch once the quota is divided up.

“We still have a long way to go for coho (for ocean fisheries) and need some discussion to see where we end up,” said Wendy Beeghly, the WDFW coastal salmon manager. “We’ve also got some work to do for chinook in terms of meeting tule allowable impact rates. “It definitely will be leaner on chinook in terms of the overall quota. Now with that said sometimes abundance doesn’t relate to ocean availability so there’s a lot of guessing in terms of what will actually happen.”

Ocean salmon fisheries will likely be affected by a downward trend in 2018 for chinook and coho.

“The message from the PFMC (Pacific Fishery Management Council) for ocean fisheries is pretty negative for both coho and chinook, driven by poor forecasts for Queets wild coho and Lower Columbia River Tule chinook,” said Pat Pattillo, the former WDFW salmon policy manager who now does work for various PNW sport-fishing businesses and organizations.

A total Columbia River fall chinook forecast of 365,000 is about half of the 10-year average and falls below the 582,600 forecast and actual return of 475,900 last year.

The Columbia River chinook forecast is 112,500, which is down in 50 percent from last year.

Hatchery chinook known as “tules” and other lower river chinook stocks are the most prized sport fish and a driving force in ocean fisheries off Ilwaco, Westport and at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth.

The “upriver bright” chinook return of 67,300 (53,100 last year) to Columbia above Bonneville Dam are also down more than 50 percent of the most recent 10-year average.

A forecast of 286,200 coho are forecast to return to Columbia River in 2018, which is down almost 100,000 fish from last year. About 279,300 actually returned last year where some coho stocks are listed on the Endangered Species Act.

Each of the alternatives listed below vary in catch quotas, and each could close sooner if they’re achieved before the official closing dates.

Option one closely resembles last summer’s ocean sport season quota of 45,000 chinook and 42,000 coho.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION ONE

32,500 chinook (54,500 last year and 58,600 in 2016), and 42,000 hatchery-marked coho (58,800 last year and 37,800 in 2016).

Ilwaco (Area 1) would be open daily from June 23 through Sept. 3 with a 21,000 hatchery coho and 9,500 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

Westport (Area 2) would be open daily from July 1 through Sept. 3 with 15,540 hatchery coho and 15,400 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

La Push (Area 3) would be open daily June 23 through Sept. 3 with 990 hatchery coho and 1,700 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon. The late-season terminal fishery is Sept. 29 through Oct. 14 with 100 hatchery coho and 100 chinook.

Neah Bay (Area 4) would be open daily June 23 through Sept. 3 with 4,370 hatchery coho and 5,800 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon except no chum beginning Aug. 1. Beginning Aug. 1, chinook non-retention east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line during council managed ocean fishery.

Buoy 10 opens Aug. 1 with expected catch of 15,000 hatchery coho in August and September.

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION TWO

27,500 chinook (45,000 last year and 30,000 in 2016), and 35,000 hatchery-marked coho (50,400 last year and 14,700 in 2016).

Ilwaco (Area 1) would be open daily from June 30 through Sept. 3 with a 14,700 hatchery coho and 8,000 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

Westport (Area 2) would be open Sundays through Thursdays only from June 24 through Sept. 3 with 10,880 hatchery coho and 13,100 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

La Push (Area 3) would be open daily June 30 through Sept. 3 with 660 hatchery coho and 1,400 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon. The late-season terminal fishery is Sept. 29 through Oct. 14 with 100 hatchery coho and 100 chinook.

Neah Bay (Area 4) would be open daily June 30 through Sept. 3 with 3,060 hatchery coho and 4,900 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon except no chum beginning Aug. 1. Beginning Aug. 1, chinook non-retention east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line during council managed ocean fishery.

Buoy 10 opens Aug. 1 with expected catch of 20,000 hatchery coho in August and September.

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION THREE

22,500 chinook (40,000 last year and closed in 2016), and 16,800 hatchery-marked coho (18,900 last year and closed in 2016).

lwaco (Area 1) would be open daily from July 1 through Sept. 3 with a 8,400 hatchery coho and 6,600 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

Westport (Area 2) would be open Sundays through Thursdays only from July 1 through Sept. 3 with 6,210 hatchery coho and 10,600 chinook quota. Daily limit is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook.

La Push (Area 3) would be open daily July 1 through Sept. 3 with 440 hatchery coho and 1,300 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon.

Neah Bay (Area 4) would be open daily July 1 through Sept. 3 with 1,750 hatchery coho and 4,000 chinook. Daily limit is two salmon except no chum beginning Aug. 1. Beginning Aug. 1, chinook non-retention east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line during council managed ocean fishery.

Buoy 10 opens Aug. 1 with expected catch of 25,000 hatchery coho in August and September.

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

Upcoming meetings

The first North of Falcon meeting where anglers should get a glimpse of early Puget Sound salmon fishing options is this Tuesday (March 20) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at DSHS Building, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia. The follow-up North of Falcon meeting is April 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. West in Lynnwood.

The final seasons will be adopted at the Pacific Fishery Management Council meetings on April 6-11 at Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way in Portland, Oregon.

In meantime public is being accepted on the WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/. You can also view a list of other public meetings as well as salmon run-size forecasts.

Backcountry Gear Starters

Gear to get you started hunting the backcountry

by Jason Brooks

For the backcountry hunter and hikers there really is no “off season” but instead the “adjustment season”. When the snows are too deep to get safely into the high country then it is time to organize and critique our gear. Veteran backcountry explorers know that mending, cleaning, and evaluating gear is an important part of success. For those that are new to the backcountry game this is the time to research and gain knowledge on what you really need in the high country. Here are a few tips to get a novice started as well as reminder for the experienced backcountry hunter to go thru their gear and purchase any necessities for the coming season.

Tents and tarps should be lightweight shelters to get you out of the weather-Jason Brooks

Shelter

Probably the most important gear is your shelter and it can vary depending on the season you plan to hunt as well as where you prefer to hunt. For hunters that find themselves along the Cascade crest or high elevations then rain and even snow is not uncommon during the early September “High Hunt” in Washington. I’ve spent so many nights in a “bivvy bag” during a rainstorm that I now prefer to put some extra weight into my pack by using a three season, two-person tent. When I am joined by a hunting companion we split the load and I carry a three-person tent and they carry other shared items.

Teepee’s and “hot tents” are becoming very popular in the backcountry these days, as well. These lightweight nylon tarp shelters are easy to pitch and when combined with a titanium stove you can stay warm during the surprise snow storm and dry out after an afternoon rain squall. One drawback is that most models don’t use a floor as this adds a lot of weight.

Campfire cooked trout is a delight in the high country-Jason Brooks

Food

Back in the “good ole’ days” the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, perfected in the finest kitchens the U.S. Military could find, at the lowest bid of course, meant we gorged on high calorie, high sodium, food that would live well past our lifetime. They are heavy and produced a lot of garbage with their packaging. Since then freeze dried meals started showing up in our packs and now there are many supplements we can add throughout our day to increase our energy. Check out some of the products by MtnOps. And when it comes to coffee, it’s hard to beat a fresh brewed cup and thanks to some innovative processing and packaging Ascent Packs from Dark Timber Coffee makes it easy to have a morning cup of coffee in the backcountry.

If you like to enjoy your catch or harvest while in the backcountry, it’s hard to beat some campfire trout or coconut oil sautéed grouse. To bring along some spices to flavor your harvest you can package them at home in plastic drinking straws, bend over the ends and secure them with tape or rubber bands. They are lightweight and waterproof. You can use this idea to keep matches dry in your pack too.

Dress in layers of quality clothing to stay warm, dry and safe-Jason Brooks

Clothing

Technology, fashion, and practicality have really helped the hunter who heads to the high country. With new materials like microfiber, nylon, fleece, and Gore-Tex those that head to the backcountry can lighten their load by not having to carry too many extra clothes. The company motto for Sitka Gear really rings true, “Turning clothing into gear”.

Layering is the most important survival “tactic” we can use and it starts at the trailhead. Pack away the outer shell and any cold gear, so not to sweat too much as you hike. Once you stop it’s time to add a layer. The fashion world might seem like an unlikely place for hunters to find clothing but in reality it reminds us that sometimes the natural world provides some of the best clothes. A fur hat on a cold and windy Montana mule deer hunt keeps you warm.

When it comes to your laying system, be practical about it. Instead of buying a heavy winter coat that a hunter would use in a tree stand in Wisconsin, buy a lightweight waterproof shell, a fleece jacket, a wool shirt, and some micro-fiber undershirts. You will stay much warmer and you can lighten up as you hike and adjust for sunny days or a sudden snow storm. Wool is truly your friend in the backcountry and remember “cotton kills”. Stay away from cotton clothing, especially “Long Johns”, t-shirts and jeans. Not only is it heavy but it also cools when wet and it will lead to hypothermia.

A lightweight and compact all-in-one stove, like the Stryker, is a must have-Jason Brooks

Cooking Stoves

The thought of eating a cold lunch always bothered me. Several years ago I started carrying a lightweight stove with me all day. Back then I used the MSR “Pocket Rocket” and then made the move to an “all-in-one” system with the Camp Chef Stryker. When sitting on a ridge it sure is nice to have a hot cup of coffee or some hot oatmeal for lunch. During a rainstorm I often crawl under a tree and have a hot meal. It’s hard to start a fire under such a tree without causing concern of a forest fire, even when it’ snowing and the fire would consist of one tree.

But the all-in-one system allows me to heat water quickly and have a meal with no fire needed. The Stryker has a built in igniter and the butane canister nestles into the cup along with the burner and stand. One major advantage to carrying a lightweight stove during the day is that you can lighten up your lunch weight with dried foods and if you have a water source nearby you don’t even have to carry extra water. More than once I have found myself on the trail back to camp well after dark and stop along the way to eat dinner. When I finally make it back to camp I go to bed without having to stay up late to eat some calories.

Little comforts like a hot meal on a cold night make it possible to stay in the backcountry for long periods-Jason Brooks

Comforts

You would be surprised how a small item that takes your mind off of things helps you extend your stay in the backcountry. Though these “comfort” items add weight they are as much needed as a good tent or sleeping bag if you plan on a long trip, especially a solo one. I prefer to take a paperback book or the latest issue of my favorite hunting magazine. A hunting buddy of mine carries a small 35mm film canister with some dice. Another carries a deck of cards. You can pass a thunderstorm inside of a tent with these items, or if awakened by something going “bump in the night” they can get you back to sleep. One last item that is my absolute “must have” in my backpack for comfort is a small MP3 player and headphones (ear buds). It is extremely lightweight and last days on a single charge. This past fall while packing out my elk from the Idaho backcountry it took me four trips with heavy loads on my back. The last trip I was skipping along past camp to the meat hanging tree and the guys couldn’t understand where I got my energy from. I was listening to my favorite music and happily hiking along not even feeling the weight of that bull on my back.

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

2018 Pacific Northwest Turkey Outlook

The author (right ) called this big 21 lb. Boss Tom in for a friend last season. Curiosity and loneliness around mid morning once the hens had went to nest brought this guy into 18 yards. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

I’m going to go out on a limb here! No pun intended but I’m going to go ahead and say that the 2018 Oregon spring turkey season will be fantastic! Why will it be fantastic might you ask?

First of all, last year’s dry spring and mild winter made for a great hatch and good poult survival. Secondly, we have had a fairly mild winter with less snow pack in many portions of the Pacific Northwest equating to less winter die off of birds. Yes, some of the late cold and snowy weather took its toll on some flocks but for the most part they are doing better than ever.

Good Bets: In order to find a gobbler this spring a hunter should be prepared to look higher in elevation. Lack of snow pack in many locations has enabled birds to disperse quicker into the high country. This spring will be similar to last year in many ways and hunters should keep in mind where they found birds last year and begin their searches in those areas. Turkey are drawn to food around small creeks with fresh vegetation, newly hatched insects, snails and small amphibians which are all irresistible to them. If you walk ridges above draws with creek bottoms that have freshly sprouted plant life you will eventually run into turkeys.

Turkey populations continue to expand throughout the Pacific Northwest as birds continue to do well and thrive in many locations. Now is the time to get involved and become a part of this exciting sport throughout our region. If you haven’t been turkey hunting yet I highly recommend giving it a try because the prospects for the 2018 season are looking pretty darn good.

A group of mature gobblers in search of a lonely hen. Often times during the early season birds will be found in larger groups with multiple gobblers hanging together. (Troy Rodakowski)

Western Oregon: Last season 13,716 hunters managed to harvest 5,246 birds during the spring season in the Beaver state. The top five units on the west side were the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and the Applegate. All of these units had good harvests with some of the highest harvests coming from Melrose and Rogue followed by Evans Creek & Willamette respectively. Many of these birds congregate on private lands or borders of private timber and BLM tracts. With Douglas County being the “Turkey Capitol” of Oregon over a third of the annual harvest occurs here.

One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills. Spend a little time door-knocking in these units and you could score some primo turkey hunting ground.

These are all great areas but Northeast Oregon in my opinion is one of the best regions to hunt spring turkey in the Beaver state. Locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter, and Flora all hold decent flocks of birds. Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek, and Minam GMU’s all saw decent harvest in 2017. Units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years were the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating, and Starkey.

Getting our youth out is important. Be sure to look into your states youth hunts for turkey this coming season. (Troy Rodakowski)

Washington State: The state of Washington has seen turkey harvest rise from a mere 588 birds in 1996 to nearly 5,000 in the past few seasons. Last year the total spring harvest was 4,980 birds taken by 9,565 hunters across the state. In the Northeast region of the Evergreen State the turkey harvest in GMU’s 101-136 have held at or near 3,000 birds. Both Yakima and Kittitas counties turkey populations have held fairly steady also with some minor declines over the last few years.

In Okanogan County turkey are found in scattered groups and are primarily found in larger numbers on private agricultural holdings. GMU’s 231 and 232 hold the best populations of birds and see some of the highest harvest rates in this district. With reduced numbers in the Methow Valley hunters are finding it a bit more difficult to fill a tag.

The Stemilt Basin outside of Wenatchee and lands along the Wenatchee River usually hold several flocks of birds. Most of the lands near Wenatchee are private and hunters looking for public lands need to search closer to the Stemilt Basin. In addition, the east slope of the Cascade mountain range is showing expanding populations of turkeys. The Eastern species of turkey in Western Washington are continuing to expand with GMU’s 667, 510, 672, and 520 being the best. Many of the turkey in these units are on private farmlands or timberlands and permission is required to access these birds.

Every once in a while a bird will come in silent. So always keep your eyes peeled for that red bobbing head. (Troy Rodakowski)

Idaho: Turkeys are found throughout the Panhandle Region, except in the mountainous units 7 and 9. Turkey hunting is usually pretty good in the Panhandle region however this past winter may have taken a toll on turkey populations.

The 2017-18 winter had above normal snowpack with lower elevations also receiving a good amount of snow. Birds will be concentrated in areas with feed following the receding snow lines. Decent hunting can be found on public land adjacent to private land in lower elevations especially in units 1, 2, 3, and 5. Obtaining permission from private landowners is a good option for finding turkey hunting spots. Many private landowners will provide access because they want turkey flocks reduced on their lands.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are also found in and near Idaho Fish and Game’s Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area south of Lewiston, as well as state and federal land, private agriculture land and corporate timber land.

Turkey production the past three years has been near the long-term average in the Clearwater Region resulting in numbers that should provide hunting success consistent with recent years.

Mild conditions during the past few winters in the Clearwater region has resulted in good survival into spring and also helps give hunters access to higher elevations early in the spring.

In the Clearwater Region hunters will want to focus their effort near the Clearwater River up to the Lochsa and Selway. Also, the Snake River, lower Salmon River, and White bird have held decent numbers of birds.

For early season success make sure to scout prior to season and obtain permission on private ground if possible. Figuring out a flock’s daily routine will help to put you in a good spot during the opening week of the season. If you plan to hunt some of the higher terrain be prepared to cover some ground to locate birds. Turkeys in the mountains are concentrating their effort on finding fresh food and dispersing into the higher meadows where the snow has melted off. These Rio’s and Merriams tend to be more nomadic and are not as easy to pattern.

Also, make sure to take some time and practice your calling. You don’t have to be a World Champion or even close to a professional caller but try your best to sound as much like a turkey as possible. Listening to You Tube Videos or having a friend or family member who is an experienced caller help you can make a huge difference. Simple box calls are easiest for beginners and with just a little practice slate calls can be mastered fairly quickly, as well. Mouth diaphragms tend to take a bit more practice but are very effective and best of all they render a hunters hands free and ready to shoot.

Turkey hunting is catching on out here in the Pacific Northwest and populations are continuing to grow and expand. Washington, Oregon and Idaho offer some of the best turkey hunting across the country and now is the time to start planning your 2018 turkey hunt. With the winter snows melting in the lower elevations now is the time to get out there and locate some birds ahead of the openers in these great Western states.

 

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

2018 salmon forecasts unveil a mixed bag of highlights and lowlights for possible salmon fisheries

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) unveiled salmon forecasts, and there are some improvements peppered with returns that could restrain opportunities as fishery managers take the first steps in a lengthy process of setting fishing seasons.

“Overall Puget Sound hatchery chinook are up 21 percent based on the 10-year average,” said Aaron Dufault, a WDFW biologist.

That hatchery chinook forecast in 2018 is 227,420, which is a 35 percent increase from 2017 when the forecast was 193,962.

While that figure is rosy it appears wild Puget Sound chinook remain poor and could constrain some fisheries as roughly 26,330 are forecast to return, down slightly from last year’s forecast of 27,727.

The 2017 Dungeness chinook forecast of 373 fish created headaches for sport fishing opportunities in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6), which was below the critical status threshold of 500 wild spawning chinook requiring a 6 percent impact limit. The 2018 Dungeness forecast is 796, and well above that level and will allow up to 10 percent impact.

Of 12 wild chinook stocks limited by ESA threatened status, all but two stocks (Skagit spring and Skagit summer/fall) have higher forecasts in 2018 than in 2017.

A glimmer of hope in northern Puget Sound is Stillaguamish River wild chinook returns (while still in the poor status range) look upbeat in 2018 with 1,600 (1,500 last year and 500 in 2016), which could hopefully avoid a skirmish over wild fish.

Elsewhere in North Sound, the Skagit forecast is 13,300 wild chinook (15,800 and 15,100), and 300 hatchery chinook (400 and 400). The Tulalip is 7,500 hatchery chinook (5,300 and 1,400). The Nooksack/Samish is 24,600 hatchery chinook (21,200 and 27,900).

“In the Green River (23,431 chinook forecast for 2018) we could have the possibility of increasing the in-river fishery as well as adding some days in the summer to Elliott Bay,” said Aaron Bosworth, a regional WDFW biologist. “We’ve got a ways to go on specific fisheries, but there is more room based on the forecast.”

Other central Puget Sound chinook forecasts are 6,222 to Lake Washington; 12,188 to Grovers and East Kitsap; and12,450 to Puyallup.

The bulk of the chinook forecast originate from southern Puget Sound where 123,600 hatchery (80,400 last year and 43,100 in 2016) and 4,800 wild (4,700 and 4,500) are expected to come back this season.

In northern Puget Sound, Snohomish is 3,500 wild chinook (3,400 and 3,300), and 6,500 hatchery chinook (4,800 and 5,000).

In Hood Canal, the hatchery chinook forecast is 57,600 (48,300 last year and 42,700 in 2016), and the wild forecast is 3,900 (2,500 and 2,300). The once popular Skokomish River king salmon fishery has been closed the past two summers due to a land dispute that prevented sport angler access to this majority hatchery production system, but fishery managers are hopeful to reinstate opportunity this year.

On the coast, fisheries managers have indicated wild chinook returns are down 23 percent, but hatchery returns are up 21 percent. Forecasts to Willapa Bay is 44,100 (38,500 last year and 39,500 in 2016); Hoh fall is 2,600 (2,700 and 1,800); and Quillayute summer/fall is 8,000 (7,600 and 7,500; Grays Harbor fall is 16,400 wild and 4,800 hatchery fish. Forecasts weren’t available for fall chinook in the Queets and Quinault.

There’s a feeling of mixed blessings for Puget Sound coho in 2018, and could have the potential to increase fishing opportunity in areas that have been closed since 2015.

“The 10-year average for coho is 600,500, and this year relative to that average were still digging ourselves out for coho (and) we are down 6 percent from 2017 for projected coho returns,” Dufault said.

The expected Puget Sound hatchery coho return is 557,149 (595,074 last year and 249,174 in 2016).

The forecast for five wild coho stocks that drive Puget Sound sport fisheries are the Strait of Juan de Fuca (8,391 for 2018 and 14,489 last year); Skagit (59,196 and 11,160) up 350 percent; Stillaguamish (18,950 and 7,622) up 150 percent; Snohomish (65,925 and 107,325); and Hood Canal (61,104 and 120,297).

In 2017, forecasts for two of these wild stocks – Skagit and Stillaguamish – determined the very restrictive sport fishery for Straits, San Juan Islands, east side of Whidbey Island, and northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

A combined coastal coho return is 270,756 compared to 298,651 last year. A breakdown is 65,187 (91,718 last year) to Willapa Bay; 93,793 (86,398 to Grays Harbor; 55,064 (55,735) to Quinault; 17,778 (20,199) to Queets; 5,816 (6,198) to Hoh; and 6,056 summer (4,844) and 27,062 fall (33,427) to Quillayute.

Poor Fraser River wild coho have also been an ongoing issue to Washington’s sport fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound consistent with conservation objectives and sharing of limited allowable impacts allocated to the U.S.

Ocean salmon fisheries could be affected by a downward trend in 2018 for chinook and coho. A total fall chinook forecast of 365,000 is about half of the 10-year average and falls below the 582,600 forecast and actual return of 475,900 last year.

The Columbia River chinook forecast is 112,500, which is down in 50 percent from last year. Hatchery chinook known as “Tules” and other lower river chinook stocks are the backbone of ocean fisheries.

The “upriver bright” chinook return of 67,300 (53,100 last year) to Columbia above Bonneville Dam are also down more than 50 percent of the most recent 10-year average.

A forecast of 286,200 coho are forecast to return to Columbia River in 2018, which is down almost 100,000 fish from last year. About 279,300 actually returned last year where some coho stocks are listed on the Endangered Species Act.

“Coho have the same issues as last year (and) that could potentially constrain the ocean fisheries,” said Wendy Beeghly, a WDFW coastal salmon manager. “The Queets could be a factor as it will be listed as overfished in 2018.”

For other salmon species like sockeye, the Baker River forecast of 35,002 will fall in the neutral category, and lower than last year’s forecast 47,000 and 55,054 in 2016.

While down in 2018 the Baker sockeye figure is up 20 percent compared to the 10-year average, and should be enough to consider some kind of summer sport fisheries in Baker Lake and possibly the Skagit River.

The Lake Washington forecast remains dismal with 39,875 (77,292 last year and 119,125 in 2016). The last time a fishery occurred in the lake was 2006, and it appears the downward trend will remain the same for years to come.

The Wenatchee River sockeye forecast is 25,700 (54,200 last year), and Okanogan River sockeye forecast is 72,600 (137,000).

In British Columbia the Fraser River sockeye return is 13,981,000 up from 4,432,000 last year. These fish could be easy game for anglers fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the U.S. side of the border as they intermingle with local stocks, but the challenge has been figuring out how to catch them in marine areas.

The Puget Sound chum forecast of 1,216,031 – includes 497,400 to Hood Canal and 395,359 to southern Puget Sound – falls just below the 1.5-million 10-year average, but is still a very return that should produce some glory moments for anglers in the fall and early winter.

At the meeting, Marisa Litz with the WDFW fish program management division offered a power-point on ocean conditions.

The warm “blob” that plagued the North Pacific from late 2013 to 2015 has dissipated, returning sea surface temperature anomalies to more normal levels.

The El Nino of 2015-2016 is also officially over and we are in an ENSO neutral state, meaning that the equatorial Pacific does not have abnormally high or low SST anomalies (the signature of El Nino/La Nina).

This typically means that ocean conditions in the Pacific Northwest will be favorable for salmon of all life stages with cooler than average air/ocean temperatures and more precipitation. Although some climate models are indicating below average temperatures, precipitation may just be average for the winter.

Litz says the current snowpack through February was at 100 percent, which will benefit out-migrating juvenile fish with improved stream flows and cooler water temperatures.

Meeting dates to set the salmon fishing seasons:

March 9-14: Pacific Fishery Management Council Meeting at DoubleTree by Hilton Sonoma, One Doubletree Drive, Rohnert Park, Calif. The PFMC adopts a range of ocean fishery options, including catch quotas for sport and commercial fisheries – see agenda.

March 15: Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Discussion, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Trinity Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., Sequim. Public discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries.

March 19: Columbia River Fisheries Discussion, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Room 102A of Region 5 Headquarters, 5525 S. 11th St., Ridgefield. Public meeting to present results of state-tribal negotiations and analyses of Columbia River fisheries proposals. With public participation, preferred seasons are developed for the Columbia River area sport and commercial fisheries.

March 19: Grays Harbor Fisheries Advisory Group, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Large Conference room, Region 6 Headquarters, 48 Devonshire Rd, Montesano. Grays Harbor Advisory Group discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries; meeting is open to the public.

March 20: First North of Falcon Meeting, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; DSHS – Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington St SE, Olympia. Discussion of management objectives and preliminary fishery proposals for sport and commercial fisheries in Puget Sound and coastal Washington, with limited discussion of the Columbia River and ocean fisheries.

March 22: Willapa Bay Fisheries Advisory Group, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Large Conference room, Region 6 Headquarters, 48 Devonshire Road, Montesano. Group discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries; meeting is open to the public.

March 26: Public Hearing on Ocean Salmon Management Options, 7 p.m. at Chateau Westport – Beach Room, 710 W. Hancock, Westport. Take comments on the proposed ocean salmon fishery management options adopted by the council during its early March meeting.

March 27: Mid-Columbia/Snake rivers Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Walla Walla Community College, Clarkston Campus Auditorium, 1470 Bridge St., Clarkston. Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Columbia River sport fisheries.

March 27: Puget Sound (South Sound – Hood Canal) Recreational Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE, Olympia. Public discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries.

March 27: Grays Harbor Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St., Montesano. Public meeting for discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries in Grays Harbor and associated watersheds of the Humptulips and Chehalis rivers.

Tegan Yuasa and father Mark Yuasa with a pair of nice hatchery chinook they caught in San Juan Islands on Jan. 6.

March 28: Mid-Columbia River Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Chelan PUD, 327 N. Wenatchee Ave., Wenatchee. Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Columbia River sport fisheries.

March 28: Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Region 4 Headquarters Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek. Public discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries.

March 29: Columbia River Public Meeting, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Kennewick Irrigation District – Boardroom, 2015 S. Ely Street, Kennewick. Public discussion of management objectives and preliminary options for Columbia River fall commercial and sport fisheries.

March 28: Willapa Bay Fisheries Discussion, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Raymond Elks Club, 326 3rd St., Raymond. Public discussion for discussion of pre-season forecasts and possible salmon fisheries in Willapa Bay and its associated watersheds.

April 2: Columbia River and Ocean Fisheries Discussion, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Room 102A, Region 5 Headquarters – 5525 S 11th St., Ridgefield. Public meeting to present results of state-tribal negotiations and analyses of ocean and Columbia River fisheries proposals. With public participation, preferred seasons are developed for ocean and Columbia River area sport and commercial fisheries.

April 3: North of Falcon Meeting, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood. Public meeting to present results of state-tribal negotiations and analyses of preliminary fishery proposals. With public participation, preferred options are developed for Puget Sound sport and commercial fisheries.

April 6-11: Final Pacific Fishery Management Council Meetings at Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland, Ore. PFMC adopts final ocean fisheries regulations and state-tribal fishing plans are finalized for all inside area commercial and sport salmon fisheries.

 

UPDATED: More 2018 salmon news coming to light ahead of Tuesday WDFW forecast meeting in Lacey

With the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) salmon forecast meeting looming on the near horizon – Tuesday, Feb. 27 – to be exact we now have word leaking out on early expectations for the 2018 fishing seasons.

“We are still compiling the tables so they aren’t complete yet and won’t have them done until Monday,” said Wendy Beeghly, the coastal WDFW salmon manager who was attending meetings in Portland last week.

Another source indicated it looks like co-managers (state and tribal fishery managers) have agreed on most salmon forecasts except for a couple of chinook returns on the coast and the Elwha River in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“In Puget Sound most of the chinook forecasts are up a little bit so that is good news,” Beeghly said. “A lot of them aren’t significant, but some of them are quite a bit higher than they had been. So it is mostly good news on chinook front.”

The 2017 Dungeness chinook forecast of 373 fish created headaches for sport fishing opportunities in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6), which was below the critical status threshold of 500 wild spawning chinook requiring a 6 percent impact limit. The 2018 Dungeness forecast is 796, and well above that level and will allow up to 10 percent impact.

Of 12 wild chinook stocks limited by ESA threatened status, all but two stocks (Skagit spring and Skagit summer/fall) have higher forecasts in 2018 than in 2017.

Of particular note is Stillaguamish River wild chinook returns (while still in the poor status range) look upbeat in 2018 and improved over recent years, and co-managers were in process of finishing 2018 forecasts, which could hopefully avoid a skirmish over wild fish. Stay tuned.

While still weighing on the side of caution and mixed signals depending on who you talk to, the early word is Puget Sound coho abundance has improved for 2018. That may lead to some areas of Puget Sound and the Strait opening in the later-summer early fall timeframe, which have been mostly closed since 2015 season.

The forecast for five wild coho stocks that drive Puget Sound sport fisheries are the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Hood Canal.

In 2017, forecasts for two of these wild stocks – Skagit and Stillaguamish – determined the very restrictive sport fishery for Straits, San Juan Islands, east side of Whidbey Island, and northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

The 2018 forecast of 59,196 for Skagit wild coho is 350 percent greater than the 2017 forecast of 13,235, and way larger than the 8,912 in 2016 when the situation hit an all-time low.

The 2018 forecast of 18,950 for Stillaguamish wild coho is 150 percent greater than the 2017 forecast of 7,622, and way larger than the dismal 2,770 in 2016.

The 2018 forecasts for all five driver Puget Sound wild coho stocks are up dramatically from the disastrous 2016 season.

There are also a few wild coho stocks of concern that could play a big role in how coho sport fisheries are shaped or for that matter not shaped at all.

Chum and sockeye returns migrating into Puget Sound also appear to be similar to last year.

Sockeye and pink returns were on average poorer than forecast throughout Puget Sound, but chum populations waxed the forecast in 2017, and were 200 percent above the pre-season forecast.

The preliminary run-size was 950,000 chum in Hood Canal and 800,000 in South Puget Sound. Commercial catches this fall were the highest state fisheries had seen in the past two decades. Sport anglers also benefitted from the higher returns.

Chum forage more heavily than other salmon species on gelatinous zooplankton – which may be abundant, but has poor nutritional quality – (and) may be a reason why they did well.

The Pacific Salmon Commission met on Feb. 12-16 in Vancouver, B.C., and the focus was on the salmon management plans negotiations, which indicated no significant change to the way Washington salmon fisheries, and particularly sport fisheries, are managed.

Poor Fraser River wild coho have been an issue to Washington’s sport fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca consistent with conservation objectives and sharing of limited allowable impacts allocated to the U.S.

Ocean salmon fisheries could be affected although fishery managers we’re still working on putting the final touches on forecasts before the Tuesday meeting.

In general Columbia River chinook forecasts are down and particularly for tule chinook stocks (which are the driver in ocean salmon fisheries), and it looks like they’re down in 38 percent exploitation rate allowance category. So that will be a little more constraining than in past years.

The coastal coho stocks look about same as last year and Columbia coho stocks are down from last year as well as Oregon Production Index.

“That could potentially constrain the ocean fisheries although I think we’ll run into coastal coho constraints before that before we reach the OPI natural coho constraints,” Beeghly said.

While salmon forecasts aren’t that rosy again in 2018 it appears the dismal ocean conditions are a thing of the past.

“The warm “blob” that plagued the North Pacific from late 2013 to 2015 has dissipated, returning sea surface temperature anomalies to more normal levels,” said Marisa Litz, with the WDFW fish program management division.

“Despite this, organisms at the base of the food web in the ocean (zooplankton, especially copepods) continue to occur in low abundance and have less lipid than we typically see in the Pacific Northwest,” Litz said. “This means that foraging conditions continue to be poor for out-migrating salmon and sub-adults co-mingling on the high seas.”

The El Nino of 2015-2016 is officially over and we are in an ENSO neutral state, meaning that the equatorial Pacific does not have abnormally high or low SST anomalies (the signature of El Nino/La Nina).

This typically means that ocean conditions in the Pacific Northwest will be favorable for salmon of all life stages with cooler than average air/ocean temperatures and more precipitation. Although some climate models are indicating below average temperatures, precipitation may just be average for the winter.

A lower snowpack during the winter can lead to lower summer stream flows and higher stream temperatures that could impact both out-migrating juvenile salmon and returning adults, resulting in pre-spawn mortality.

“We are heading into another difficult year for coho, and it’s still an uphill battle overall,” one fisheries manager noted before the Christmas holidays. “While it is way too early to tell, 2019 will be based off last year’s returns, which were decent. As long as ocean conditions are fine for the fish, and they find good survival then hopefully it ends up being more positive two years from now.”

The WDFW forecast meeting will be on Tuesday at the Lacey Community Center (Lacey Community Center) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

 

Coastal bottomfishing season starts soon, plus word on springer and razor clams

The popular of the coastal black rockfish and lingcod sport fishery gets underway on March 10 off some coastal ports, and anglers can expect some blissful spring days on water weather permitting.

The black rockfish population remains healthy in coastal waters, according to Heather Reed, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal fish biologist.

Reed did point out that while black rockfish populations were good in 2017 there was an increase of catch in 2016 and most likely stemmed from the lack of coastal sport salmon fisheries. Charter and private sport anglers rely heavily on bottom-fish especially during the spring when other fisheries are closed.

The coastal sport fishery in 2017 was limited to 632,726 pounds of black rockfish.

The coastal sport fishery opens March 10 through Oct. 20 for bottomfish including lingcod off Ilwaco, Westport and La Push (Marine Catch Areas 1, 2 and 3).

The northern coast off Neah Bay (Area 4) also opens March 10 through Oct. 20 for bottom-fish except the lingcod fishery is open April 16 through Oct. 15.

A spike in the canary rockfish population allowed sport anglers in 2017 to retain one daily off Ilwaco and Westport only for the first time in about 15 years. That one canary daily limit will still be in effect for 2018 as part of an anglers seven rockfish daily limit. Fishing for canary rockfish is still not allowed at La Push and Neah Bay.

Sport anglers may keep all lingcod regardless of their size due to a rise in their population in the ocean. Anglers should also be aware of certain depth restrictions in coastal deep-water lingcod fisheries.

Sport anglers who pursue halibut and bottomfish are now required to carry a descending device onboard their boat in all marine areas, including the coast. Descending devices are used to release rockfish back to the depth and improve their survival when released. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/bottomfish/rockfish/mortality.html.

Word on Lower Columbia spring chinook fishery

Washington and Oregon fishery managers will announce the 2018 Columbia River spring chinook fisheries on Wednesday in Portland, Oregon.

But, word leaked out in Terry Otto’s column in The Columbian (http://www.columbian.com/news/2018/feb/15/spring-chinook-season-comes-into-focus/) last week.

Otto said that “while not official yet it looks as if fishermen will get a 38-day season from the I-5 Bridge to the Bonneville Dam with a single hatchery chinook daily limit. Anglers would get to fish for springers from March 1 through April 7.”

The preliminary dates were pitched at the Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group meeting last week in Clackamas, Oregon.

“I would expect the initial sport fishery seasons will look pretty similar to what was set last year, and it’s hard to draw any scenarios right now,” said a WDFW spokeswoman at the Vancouver WDFW office. “There are so many variables that could affect the success. Some years we see early catches while in other years it’s more of a late-timed return.”

Other options Otto mentioned in his column were keeping the season open until April 1, and then allowing fishing on Wednesdays and Saturdays for a four-day April season. Another option would be no season in March with a 12-day season in April.

Spring chinook fishing is currently open in the Lower Columbia below the I-5 Bridge, and a few have been reported caught in the big river as well as lower-river tributaries like the Cowlitz and Willamette rivers.

For the moment the daily limit is two-fish, and then drops to one hatchery chinook daily on March 1.

The 2018 forecast is 166,700 upriver spring chinook, which is 90 percent of recent 10-year average return. That is compared to 160,400 forecasted in 2017 and an actual return of 115,822, but somewhat down from 2016’s 188,800 and 187,816. In addition, 21,692 jack spring chinook returned in 2017 and was the seventh highest return dating back to 1979.

The WDFW draws up computer model salmon return forecasts – also known as “paper fish” – in December that annually offer anglers a peek into the crystal ball of salmon fishing expectations.

A majority of Columbia River “spring/early summer” are Snake River-bound fish with 107,400 forecasted in 2018, which is nearly twice as many as 2017’s actual return of 51,948 (95,800 was the forecast).

The Willamette River forecast is 53,820 adult and 2,130 jack spring chinook with 19,460 being the allowable catch total. The initial forecast in 2017 was for 40,200 fish (later it was updated to 38,100 fish) although the actual return ended up being 56,163.

Washington’s Lower Columbia tributaries are expecting 5,150 for Cowlitz, 1,450 in Kalama and 3,700 in Lewis rivers.

The largest spring adult chinook return on record was 541,000 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 12,792 (12,000) in 1995.

Many are cautious on expectations in 2018 due in large part to warm ocean conditions that have stayed in place since the fall of 2014, but could be waning. The ocean ecosystem was turned upside down in 2015 and 2016 creating very poor outmigration for young salmon survival.

There was some news last year that the situation was on the mend, and the ecosystem was returning in a positive direction. In summer of 2017, the copepod system switched back to a cold water community a sign that it was transitioning to more normal conditions.

The spring chinook fishery creates a fishing frenzy beginning as early as January and February, and builds to a crescendo in late March or early April.

Last year, 63,303 angler trips were taken with 9,047 adult spring hatchery chinook kept and 943 released, plus another 137 steelhead kept and 113 released. That averages out to about one hatchery spring chinook kept for every 6.9 trips.

Fishing on Lower Columbia River was open daily from Buoy 10 to I-5 Bridge from Jan. 1-Feb. 7 in 2017. The fishery then expanded up to Bonneville Dam from March 1-April 10, and April 13-17 and April 20-23.

Spring coastal razor clam digs likely to be slim pickings

Tentative coastal razor clams have been set from March through April, and no other digging dates will occur until then.

“Opportunities are pretty limited until the spring digs occur,” said Dan Ayres, the head WDFW coastal shellfish manager.

Final approval will depend on further marine toxin testing, which Ayres says have remained well below the action level.

The green light will likely be announced a week before each scheduled dig series.

Digs in March occur during evening low tides after 12 p.m. while those in April are during morning low tides until times noted below.

More digging dates could occur later this spring if sufficient clams remain available to harvest.

Dates are: March 2 (minus-0.8 feet at 6:54 p.m.) at Mocrocks; March 3 (0.3 at 7:34 p.m.) at Mocrocks; March 16 (0.2 at 7:03 p.m.) at Copalis and Mocrocks; March 17 (0.2 at 7:36 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; April 19 (-0.9 at 9:46 a.m.) at Mocrocks; April 20 (-0.7 at 10:37 a.m.) at Mocrocks; April 21 (-0.4 at 11:34 a.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks, digging hours will be extended to 1 p.m.; and April 22 (-0.1 at 12:38 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks, digging hours will be extended to 2 p.m.

A week-long coastal razor clam dig wrapped up on Feb. 3 with 33,723 diggers hitting the beaches and pulling out 299,848 razor clams.

Ayres said there was a decrease in success, but it had nothing to do with a drop in clam populations.

The most likely scenario was people struggled with darkness and weren’t prepared with lanterns, and also simply related to a lack of experience in digging for clams.

Best area was Copalis where 5,003 diggers had 66,184 clams for 13.2 clams per person (daily limit is 15 clams). That was followed by Twin Harbors where 7,086 diggers had 75,767 clams for 10.7 average. Mocrocks had 9,165 diggers with 71,135 clams for 7.8 average and Long Beach saw 11,470 diggers with 86,761 clams for a 7.6 average.

The season total for 19 days of digging on the coast that began Oct. 6 is 153,126 diggers with 1,721,458 razor clams. Season average per digger is 10.2 at Long Beach (58,541 diggers with 594,211 clams); 12.0 at Twin Harbors (33,928 with 408,165); 12.7 at Copalis (29,794 with 378,017); and 11.4 at Mocrocks (30,862 with 351,407).