2018 Columbia River Fall Chinook Forecast

2018 Fall Chinook Forecast for the Columbia River

by Jason Brooks

The 2018 Fall Columbia River Chinook forecast was just announced today. Anglers hoping to catch an Upriver Bright won’t be too excited over the forecast. Last fall the predicted return was 582,600 fish but after the season was over the actual return fell over 100,000 short of that with 475,900 Chinook arriving. 2018 predicted return is 365,600 total Chinook.

Buzz Ramsey with a 2017 Columbia Upriver Bright-Jason Brooks

 

Looking at last years’ predictions and returns, most of the runs were assumed to be higher than what really came back. But the over-estimated Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) was way off with a 2017 prediction of 158,400 and only 48,200 coming back. 2018 has fish biologist making lower predictions, hopefully underestimated.

An estimated 200,100 Upriver Bright (URB) run, still less than half of the ten-year average, is on par with the other stocks predictions with a total run estimation about half of the ten-year average. Biologist stated, “Several years of poor ocean conditions are likely contributing to the decreased returns”, once again blaming the warm water blob and other conditions to the reason for the low returns.

One bright note is that the Colville Confederated Tribe hatchery at Bridgeport is finally putting out 2.9 million smolts. Last year being the first year of returning adult fish. Even if Buoy 10 is slow this year, the famed Brewster terminal fishery at the mouth of the Okanogan River should provide a good opportunity at some summer Chinook. But come fall, anglers might be looking at shorter seasons depending on the North of Falcon process.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Ling Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

Focus this month is marine salmon fishing action as more areas reopen soon

The clock on the wall says it’s time to hitch up the boat for some chinook fishing opportunities in the months ahead.

The San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) continue to produce some stellar hatchery chinook fishing although rough seas and bad weather has been an issue of late.

Hatchery chinook in the San Juan Islands averaged 22.55 inches with a maximum size of 27.56. In pounds most were 6 to 8 pounds with some as large as 18-plus pounds.

Go to points are Thatcher Pass; Peavine Pass; Point Doughty; Spring Pass; Clark and Barnes Islands; Parker Reef; Point Thompson; Peavine Pass; Obstruction Pass; Waldron Island; Lopez Pass; and Presidents Channel.

In the past month, more than 800 anglers have converged to San Juan Islands for the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Jan. 5-7, and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Jan. 18-20 – both are part of the NMTA’s NW Salmon Derby Series.

The Resurrection Derby saw 102 boats and 334 anglers with 50 hatchery chinook, and the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic generated 100 boats and 357 anglers with a whopping 179 hatchery chinook.

Next up is Friday Harbor Salmon Classic this Friday and Saturday (Feb. 9-10), and Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 9-11. For more details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

Closer to Seattle, central Puget Sound (Area 10) is open, but hatchery chinook catches have been not nearly as good with a few glory moments coming off Jefferson Head, West Point south of Shilshole Bay, Rich Passage, Manchester, Southworth and Allen Bank off the south side of Blake Island.

The daily catch limit in Area 10 was raised from one to two hatchery chinook daily. Average marked chinook in Area 10 was 18.23 inches with a maximum size of 26.63.

In south-central Puget Sound around Tacoma (Area 11) – open through April 30 – the action has taken a turn in the wrong direction for the moment with spotty action reported.

Hood Canal (Area 12) is open until April 30, and southern Puget Sound (Area 13) is open year-round for salmon. This gives anglers the unique opportunity to pursue salmon 24/7 in Washington’s marine waterways.

As always be sure to check the regulation pamphlet for any last minute changes at https://wdfw.wa.gov/.

Those looking for angling plans in mid-February and March to pursue hatchery chinook will definitely need to put the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6), and northern Puget Sound and east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 9, 8-1 and 8-2) on their radar.

Last month the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff and sport-fishing advisory board decided to postpone northern Puget Sound and east side of Whidbey Island until Feb. 16 (original opening date was Jan. 16), and should extend the fishery on the back end of the season.

All three areas of Puget Sound closed sooner than expected back in November after sub-legal chinook – fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit – appeared in numerous numbers.

Test fishing last month still showed a spike of sub-legals. In Area 9 the average marked fish size was 20.07 inches and maximum size was 24.43; Area 8-1, 14.30 and 25.39; and Area 8-2, 17.04 and 22.13.

Delaying the openers should provide a more quality fishery in late-winter and early-spring when larger fish begin to appear.

Unless guidelines are achieved sooner than expected Area 9 will stay open through April 15, and 8-1 and 8-2 will be open through April 30.

For salmon fishing junkie like myself, a “must do” chinook fishery lies in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu (Area 5), which is open from March 16 to April 30; and eastern Strait off Port Angeles (Area 6) open from March 1 to April 15.

The Straits offers plenty of prime choices for winter chinook from Ediz Hook, Winter Hole and the humps off Port Angeles – as well as the exposed banks – to Freshwater Bay and Pillar Point Point to Caves off Sekiu.

 

5 Tips for High Water Steelhead

5 TIP’S FOR HIGH WATER STEELHEAD

by Jason Brooks

Two weeks of rain and counting with more to come. It seems like our rivers and streams will never come back “into shape” and our winter steelhead season continues to dwindle down from months to weeks. Rain and high water makes it difficult but it doesn’t mean that anglers can’t go fishing. Once the rivers stabilize it is time to give a few different techniques a try to increase your catch rate in high water.

Ted Schuman with a steelhead caught during a recent rain storm and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

 

Target travel lanes and soft edges.

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”. The most obvious places are behind boulders and root wads, but don’t overlook points that are jutting out into the river and create a current break. The high water is now flooding weeds, brush and shoreline grasses  that slows the currents and the fish often hold in the “soft waters” near the river’s edge.

Fish the soft edges right at the bank of an overflowing river-Jason Brooks

 

Pull bait divers and plugs.

By keeping your baits in front of fish for an extended period of time your catch rate increases. But in high and off colored water the fish can be moving so this makes it hard to cast and drift-fish “slots” where the fish might only hold for a brief period of time. Using Brad’s bait divers or pulling plugs means you can keep the bait or plug in the zone for a long time and entice holding fish as well as intercept moving fish.

Bait Divers and Pulling Plugs are very productive ways to fish in high water-Jason Brooks

 

Increase the profile of your lures and baits.

Fishing pink worms, either under a float, bobberdogging, or drift fishing has become a staple for winter steelheaders. Most of the time a 4-inch worm is preferred but when the flows bring turbid waters upsize the worms to a six-inch one. You can add some “flash” by putting a bead under a Mack’s Lure Smile Blade at the front of the worm and a matching pill float. Medium size coonstripe instead of the small, or a whole sand shrimp with a size 10 Spin-N-Glo are great upsized baits for high water steelhead.

Upsize your gear and add some contrast or flash to pink worms with a smile blade-Jason Brooks

 

Double-up the terminal gear.

Anglers who bobberdog often fish a yarnie with a bead trailer. When fishing high water this is a great technique to use so if a steelhead misses the first bait then the second one is trailing right behind and the fish capitalizes on the opportunity. Floating jigs also allows you to use a “dropper” with a trailing bead pegged a few inches from a Gamakatsu wide-gap hook. Steelybeads are a local company from Vashon Island, WA and each bead is hand painted. This assures the angler that each bead is not only the color you want but that it is free from any defects as they are all inspected, one at a time. With the off-color water increase the size to a 12mm or even a 14mm.

The author “doubled-up” on steelhead by using a yarnie trailed by a bead-Jason Brooks

 

Scent it up.

Steelhead anglers like to use scents and cures to entice a bite. Garlic, Bloody Tuna, Shrimp, or any other “flavor” is a personal choice but steelhead like sweets and Anise should always be at the top of any steelheader’s list.  Water soluble oils work great for yarnies and jigs but when the water is high it is best to use a scent that sticks and won’t wash off quickly. Pro-Cure’s Super Sauce will stay on even in high flows. Don’t think it’s just for the bait. You can disperse more scent if you smear it on your hook, rub it on the leader, and your weight.

Rob Endsley with a hatchery steelhead that bit after using some Pro-Cure Super Sauce-Jason Brooks

 

When the water is high and muddy look for fish to hold in soft waters and current breaks. Fish these places to increase your catch ratio and don’t let the weather forecast keep you from hitting the river. Even if flows are too high to drift boat or use a jet sled, a day out hiking along a riverbank can lead you to new places and a day out fishing when nobody else is on the river.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

IPHC sets halibut catch quotas that are down slightly from 2017, but still better than in recent years

Halibut like this will be hooked this spring in marine fisheries of Washington.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission set the 2018 halibut catch quotas in Portland, Oregon on Friday, and the overall poundage is slightly down from last year.

The total sport catch quota is 225,366 pounds compared to 237,762 pounds in 2017, and 214,110 pounds in 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A breakdown of the 2018 halibut catch quotas are 60,995 pounds for Puget Sound from Sekiu to Port Angeles, which is down from 64,962 in 2017, but up from 57,393 pounds in 2016.

On northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push the sport catch quota is 111,632 pounds down slightly from 115,599 in 2017, but up from 108,030 in 2016.

The south-central coast off Westport is 46,341 pounds (44,341 for primary offshore fishery and 2,000 for near-shore) compared to 50,307 in 2017 and 43,785 in 2016.

The southern coast off the Columbia River at Ilwaco will see a catch quota of 11,682 (11,182 for primary offshore fishery and 500 for near-shore) compared to 12,799 pounds in 2017 and 11,895 in 2016.

The catch quota for the entire West Coast – sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial – is 1.32-million pounds for 2018 down from 1.33-million in 2017, but up from 1.14-million in 2016.

The preliminary halibut fishing dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Catch Areas 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 only) 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 is open first Saturday after the closure of the primary fishery and 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 will close Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved, whichever comes first. The near-shore season will open 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 the Strait of Juan de Fuca and inner-Puget Sound marine waterways.

“The good news was we stayed under our sport allocation, which we haven’t done for several years and that was regarded as a success,” Heather Reed, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said. “The 2017 fishing season was good overall.”

Reed said the average size of halibut at Neah Bay and La Push was 18 pounds; Ilwaco was 14 pounds; Westport was 16 pounds; and Puget Sound was 24 pounds.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will make its final approval on all fishing dates and quotas sometime in March or sooner.

 

Chances of smelt dip-net fishery on Cowlitz River are unlikely, but hinge on in-season updates

Dip-netters in 2016 look for smelt along the Cowlitz River banks. Photo courtesy of Olaf Langness with state Fish and Wildlife.

The possibility of having a smelt season on any tributary of the Columbia River – including the highly popular Cowlitz River dip-net fishery – is still up in the air, but chances are very slim according to the latest news coming out from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

They’re predicting the smelt return to the Columbia River in 2018 return could be smaller in magnitude than the 1.6-million that returned in 2017.

Smelt abundance increased steadily from 2011 to 2014, reaching a peak of 16.6-million pounds in 2014 and has since declined the past three years.

Ocean environmental conditions were favorable for marine survival during 2012-2013, but have deteriorated the past three years.

Both commercial and recreational fisheries were closed to all harvest in 2011-2013.

The sport dip-net smelt fishery used to be very popular from the 1980s to the early 2000s before they started to steadily decline to the point where they were added to the Endangered Species Act listing in the spring of 2010.

Since then fisheries have either been closed or limited just like last year’s brief one-day fishery on Feb. 25 that produced a meager 540 pounds along the banks of the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington compared to 141,050 pounds during a sport dip-net fishery on Feb. 6 in 2016.

That 2016 return was apparently a good run – 5.1-million pounds based on spawning stock biomass – but less than 2015’s return of 11,400,00 pounds.

There were also fishing seasons– five days total in 2014 and two days in 2015 – along with smelt dip-netting opportunities in the Sandy River on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

The 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 commercial fisheries each consisted of eight fishing periods over four weeks on the Columbia River mainstem.

Here is a rundown of past Columbia River total run sizes and harvest catches:

2017: 1,600,000 pounds with 5,090 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 540 pounds in sport fishery and 1,900 pounds in the tribal fishery.

2016: 5,100,00 pounds with 4,820 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 141,050 pounds in sport fishery and 8,330 pounds in the tribal fishery.

2015: 11,400,000 pounds with 16,550 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 290,770 pounds in sport fishery and 10,400 pounds in the tribal fishery.

2014: 16,600,00 pounds with 18,560 pounds caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, 203,880 pounds in sport fishery and 6,970 pounds in the tribal fishery.

2013: 9,600,000 pounds with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and 7,470 pounds in the tribal fishery.

2012: 3,200,00 pounds with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and no data available in the tribal fishery.

2011: 3,300,00 pounds with none caught in non-tribal commercial fishery, none in sport fishery and no data available in the tribal fishery.

Word on razor clams

It’s almost time to dig into coastal beaches!

The next round of razor clams digs are set to begin this Sunday (Jan. 28), and this dig period will continue for an extended period of time.

Digging is open during P.M. low tides this Sunday, Jan. 28 (low tide is minus-0.4 feet at 4:06 p.m.) at Mocrocks; Monday, Jan. 29 (-1.0 at 4:59 p.m.) at Copalis; Tuesday, Jan. 30 (-1.5 at 5:47 p.m.) at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Jan. 31 (-1.6 at 6:33 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; Feb. 1 (-1.5 at 7:17 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Feb. 2 (-1.0 at 8 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; Feb. 3 (-0.4 at 8:42 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.

According to Dan Ayres, the head WDFW coastal shellfish manager, turnout during the last digs on Dec. 31 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks had 24,817 diggers with 306,116 clams; and Jan. 1 at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks had 8,206 with 114,420.

“It was great news and they all did so well, but the bad news is they took more clams than we had anticipated,” Ayres said. “What that means is we may have to shorten what we do down the road.”

The average at Long Beach was 10.2 clams per person (10,048 diggers Dec. 31 took home 102,176 clams); at Twin Harbors it was 13.3 (9,299 Dec. 31-Jan. 1 with 123,521); at Copalis it was 14.0 (5,639 Dec. 31 with 78,693); and at Mocrocks it was 14.5 (8,037 Dec. 31-Jan. 1 with 115,146). The daily limit is the first 15 razor clams dug regardless of size or condition.

The season total for 12 days of digging that began Oct. 6 is 87,379 diggers with 1,001,074 razor clams. Season average per digger is 10.8 at Long Beach (47,071 diggers with 507,450 clams); 12.4 at Twin Harbors (26,842 with 332,397); 12.6 at Copalis (24,791 with 311,833); and 12.9 at Mocrocks (21,698 with 280,271).

Once WDFW gets assessments of the these digs they will look at more options heading into the months ahead.

Chinook action remains above average in San Juan Islands

The hatchery chinook fishery remains good in the San Juan Islands with plenty of larger-sized fish.

The San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) is open through April 30 for hatchery chinook.

Anglers were still finding a decent number of larger-size hatchery chinook, 8 to 15 pounds, off Spring Pass, Thatcher Pass; Parker Reef and Point Thompson off the north side of Orcas Island; Peavine Pass and Obstruction Pass off Obstruction Island; Tide Point on Cypress Island; Waldron Island; Lopez Pass; and Presidents Channel.

On Jan. 18-20, 357 anglers in 100 boats caught 179 hatchery chinook in the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic. Robert Enselman of Stanwood took first place with a 17 pound-11 ounce chinook; second was Larry Surdyk of Snohomish with a 15-15; third was Dustin Walker of Oak Harbor with a 14-10; and tied in fourth place were Vicki Klein of Friday Harbor and Michael Beard of Oak Harbor with 13-11.

The derby is part of the NMTA’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series, which is has 15 events in 2018.

Next up is the Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 8-10. Derby details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/derbies/.

Many are also eagerly awaiting the Feb. 16 opener of northern Puget Sound (Area 9), and possibly the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2).

Both 8-1, 8-2 and 9 had closed sooner than expected back in November due to lots of under-sized chinook – fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit – appearing in catches.

Test fishing still shows catches of sub-legal fish remains high. In Area 9 the average marked size is 20.07 inches and maximum size is 24.43 inches. In Area 8-1 it is 14.30 and 25.39, and in Area 8-2 it is 17.04 and 22.13.

The San Juan Islands (Area 7) has seen hatchery chinook averaging 22.55 inches with a maximum size of 27.56 inches.

In central Puget Sound (Area 10) state fisheries raised the daily catch limit for hatchery chinook from one to two daily until the fishing season ends on Feb. 28.

In Area 10 there is enough in the catch quota guideline to boost the daily limit. Test fisheries have shown the average marked chinook size is 18.23 inches with a maximum size of 26.63 inches.

Other marine areas still open through April 30 are south-central (Area 11), Hood Canal (Area 12) and southern Puget Sound (Area 13). The western Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 5) opening from March 16 to April 30; and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 6) opening from March 1 to April 15.

 

4 Tips for Taking More Coyotes

by Jason Brooks

With winter in full swing and our big game season’s over the hunter who doesn’t chase waterfowl might be finding themselves wishing it was still October. But there are a few other things that those who prefer to chase after ungulates instead of fowl can do right now to keep the hunt going and help our quarry through the winter. The most obvious is to go predator hunting, especially for coyotes. Here are a few things to consider when taking afield to hunt the killers of elk calves and deer fawns, the wily coyote.

The author chose to wear solid earth tone colors when hunting near an orchard-Jason Brooks

Know how to set-up to call and your surroundings

A few weeks ago I took my boys and my brother out to call coyotes in Eastern Washington. On our first set of the day we positioned ourselves on a rim above a steep canyon that led down to the Columbia river and an orchard. Using a remote electronic caller, I varied the calls from pup whimpers and birds fighting. Knowing that the coyotes would be coming in from a long distance the call choice was pretty much the highest shrills and screams the electric call had so it would carry a long distance. After twenty minutes we decided to try a new spot and stood up, only to find a coyote running away on the ridge above us. All of us set up thinking any coyotes would be coming in from below and when we saw the dog it was too late, realizing that someone should have set-up to look behind us.

Troy Brooks keeps an eye out for songdogs as he heads for a calling set-Jason Brooks

Use cover and camo

Coyotes have very good eyesight and their hearing allows them to pinpoint exact locations. This is why a remote with an electronic call has really helped those who hunt alone. But if you choose to use mouth calls just know that good camo and sitting inside or alongside cover will keep the coyotes from figuring out you’re not a dying jackrabbit. Western Washington has a lot of neighborhood havoc causing coyotes. Hunting small parcels of land near developments isn’t uncommon as long as you have permission from private land owners or the public land is zoned where you can hunt. In these cases, the hunter should wear earth tones, such as brown’s greens, and black so not to draw attention from others.

A hunter sits in a sagebrush bush to conceal himself while calling coyotes-Jason Brooks

Be persistent and patient

Depending on where you are and the terrain you are calling will determine how long to call for. A few weeks ago while chasing deer in the late December archery season in Western Washington I cut several coyote and bobcat tracks. Just about every clear-cut landing had some kind of sign of the predators. If I know a bobcat is in the area then I will call for a much longer period of time as they are very patient and so should you be. In a small clear-cut, a hundred acres or less, then twenty minutes is plenty of time for coyotes. The dense forest of Western Washington means the calls won’t carry too far. For the large timber cuts, over a hundred acres, then treat it like you would in Eastern Washington. Give the predators time to cover the distance. I often set a minimum bench mark for 20 minutes and go from there up to an hour.

Western Washington is very dense and coyotes will come in close-Jason Brooks

Use the right gun and ammo

Hunting coyotes and other predators in Eastern Washington means that their pelts are worth money. There are several fur buyers that will buy the coyotes whole or skinned, as long as the fur isn’t damaged. I have three guns that are my “coyote hunting arsenal”. The first is my all-around rifle, a Winchester Model 70 Ranger chambered in .223 Remington. This caliber is light, fast, and perfect for shooting coyotes from 50 yards to 200 yards with little pelt damage and is the rifle I use the most. If I am hunting the wheat fields of the Palouse where shots can be very far then I take my Thompson Center Encore in .243 Winchester. I also take this rifle for hunting Western Washington or any other places where I might run into a Cougar (when the season is open). Lastly, is my 12 gauge. A Mossberg 500 with a modified choke. The shotgun goes with me on all of my hunts and sometimes is the only gun I take for Western Washington hunting and is used for shots from 40 yards and under.

The author’s favorite coyote guns, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and the 12 gauge (left to right)-Jason Brooks

The ammunition you choose also makes a big difference. You want a light bullet that enters but then explodes and does not exit. The idea being a small hole going in, and none coming out. Shot placement makes a big difference in this as well but after several years of hunting coyotes I have found the V-Max by Hornady does a great job with little pelt damage. I stopped re-loading my predator rounds awhile back too, since the line of Hornady Superformance Varmint is extremely accurate and can be found with their V-Max bullet. Hornady also makes a Heavy Magnum Coyote shotgun load in 12 and 20 gauge. I prefer the BB size shot in 3-inch magnum 12 gauge. The BB’s are lead and nickel coated, so do not use these for a goose hunt or ducks, even if you jump some while out coyote hunting.

Quality ammo and bullet selection is very important to minimize fur damage or make a lethal kill-Jason Brooks

Why you should hunt coyotes

Some people have a hard time shooting an animal and not using it in some way. The coyotes hunted in Western Washington have no value on the commercial fur market and in a few weeks the dogs in Eastern Washington and Oregon won’t be worth anything either. Once the breeding season starts, usually around the first of February, coyotes start to rub and this ruins the fur. So, why hunt coyotes? Simply put, they are predators and kill a lot of deer fawns and elk calves. As a hunter we owe it to our quarry to conduct sound wildlife management and as we build shopping malls and sub-burbs we shrink the healthy deer and elk habitat but coyotes can thrive in these same locations. If a non-hunter challenges you about hunting coyotes remind them that they also carry a variety of diseases including Parvo and Mange that is easily transferred to our family pets. And speaking of family pets, coyotes love to eat our furry friends and have even tried to grab toddlers and young kids, though very rare. Just because deer and elk season is over doesn’t mean hunting season is over. Head out and hunt coyotes.

Coyotes kill  deer during the winter as well as fawns and elk calves in the Spring-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Recent coastal razor clam digs excellent and San Juan Islands chinook fishery off to a good start

Diggers search for razor clams at Mocrocks as the sun sets on the western horizon. Photo by Mark Yuasa.

Razor clam diggers who rang in the New Year by hitting coastal beaches had plenty of celebration time with excellent digging success.

“It was good digging on just about every beach, and people were having a wonderful time,” said Dan Ayres, the head Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal shellfish manager. “I was out both nights (Dec. 31 and Jan. 1), and took my daughter out on New Year’s Day to Mocrocks, and we were back at the truck in 20 minutes with our limit of clams.”

Ayres noted razor clams at Mocrocks were nice in size, and folks were able to dig just before it got dark since the low tides occurred prior to sunset.

Turnout on Dec. 31 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks had 24,817 diggers with 306,116 clams; and Jan. 1 at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks had 8,206 with 114,420.

“It was great news that we had more than 24,000 diggers on coast (on Dec. 31), and great news they all did so well, but the bad news is they took more clams than we had anticipated,” Ayres said. “What that means is we may have to shorten what we do down the road.”

During the most recent digs the average at Long Beach was 10.2 clams per person (10,048 diggers Dec. 31 took home 102,176 clams); at Twin Harbors it was 13.3 (9,299 Dec. 31-Jan. 1 with 123,521); at Copalis it was 14.0 (5,639 Dec. 31 with 78,693); and at Mocrocks it was 14.5 (8,037 Dec. 31-Jan. 1 with 115,146). The daily limit is the first 15 razor clams dug regardless of size or condition.

The season total for 12 days of digging that began Oct. 6 is 87,379 diggers with 1,001,074 razor clams. Season average per digger is 10.8 at Long Beach (47,071 diggers with 507,450 clams); 12.4 at Twin Harbors (26,842 with 332,397); 12.6 at Copalis (24,791 with 311,833); and 12.9 at Mocrocks (21,698 with 280,271).

Chinook is hot topic this month in islands

The hatchery chinook fishery is off to a decent start in the San Juan Islands with plenty of larger-sized fish.

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

“My take is a lack of sub-legal chinook (fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit) compared to the last few years, which is good to keep the encounter rate down,” said Derek Floyd, owner of Anglers Choice Fishing Charters in Anacortes, who has fished the islands every day since it opened on Jan. 1.

“That means the chances of catching a fish over 22 inches is a lot higher, which is really positive,” Floyd said. “There are lots of fish in the usual suspect spots, and we’ve caught quite a few in the 10 to 15 pound range. But, remember just because you caught them in one place doesn’t mean they’ll be there the next day.”

The San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) is open through April 30 for hatchery chinook, and offers some awesome scenery and wildlife viewing that closely resembles southeast Alaska’s coastline.

Anglers this past week have been scoring catches of hatchery chinook, 8 to 15 pounds, off Thatcher Pass; Parker Reef and Point Thompson off the north side of Orcas Island; Peavine Pass and Obstruction Pass off Obstruction Island; Tide Point on Cypress Island; Waldron Island; Lopez Pass; and Presidents Channel.

This past weekend 102 boats with 334 anglers hit the water of the San Juan Islands for the Resurrection Salmon Derby – part of the NMTA’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series.

In all, 50 hatchery chinook over 6 pounds (40 were checked-in Saturday and 10 on Sunday) were weighed-in. The winning fish was caught by John Squibb weighing 18.28 pounds and worth $10,000 plus $6,400. Not bad for a couple of hard days work on the water! Second place was Keith Hoffcamp with a 17.72 fish and a $2,500, and third was Darrin Small with a 16.34 fish worth $1,500.

In all most fish averaged a nice 9 to 10 pounds with good fishing found throughout the island chain, and sub-legal fish weren’t that abundant, which is good news for keeping the fishery carrying on. Weather on Saturday was good, but fishing conditions due to winds were tough on Sunday.

Next up is the already sold-out Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Jan. 18-20. This will be followed by the Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 8-10. Derby details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/derbies/.

Many are also eagerly awaiting the Jan. 16 opener of northern Puget Sound (Area 9), and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) could also open on the date and will be determined after WDFW staff and the sport-fishing advisory board meet on Jan. 11.

All three areas experienced a set-back in November when the chinook encounter rate for sub-legals skyrocketed, and often makes or breaks if anglers can fish for hatchery-produced salmon.

My sage advice is to go sooner than later, which will likely guarantee you more time on the water to catch hatchery chinook.

Go to places in Area 9 are Possession Bar, Point No Point, Pilot Point, Double Bluff off southside Whidbey Island, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Foulweather Bluff and Craven Rock.

Closer to Seattle is central Puget Sound (Area 10) has been generating fair action at places like Southworth, Allen Bank off Blake Island, Manchester, Rich Passage, West Point, Jefferson Head and Point Monroe. The closure date for 10 is Feb. 28.

Lastly, don’t overlook, south-central (Area 11), Hood Canal (Area 12) and southern Puget Sound (Area 13), which are all open now through April 30.

Further down the salmon fishing pipeline are the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 5) opening from March 16 to April 30; and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 6) opening from March 1 to April 15.

Tips for a Successful Late Season Quail Hunt

by Jason Brooks

With just a few weeks left in the upland bird hunts for Washington it is time to start changing up tactics a bit to increase your success on late season quail. The birds have been hunted hard now for several months but thanks to these small and tasty birds the broods are often large enough to handle the extra-long season of opportunities. But once the temperatures plummet you will need to change how you approach the day’s hunt.

Birds don’t start their daily movements until well after the sun is up when it’s cold-Jason Brooks

Don’t start too early

Though we often like to be in the hills at first light, and with that being somewhere after breakfast anyway this time of year, birds are slow to come out of the roost. Quail are mostly a ground roosting bird which means they will often be holding under sagebrush and dense cover until the sun hits and starts to warm them up. The tiny birds will roost in thick spruce or pine trees if available so look for a sage covered hillside that might also have a stand of evergreens. I find most of my birds in the middle of the day.

Quail hunting in the middle of the day is the most productive-Jason Brooks

Don’t hunt late

Just like how the birds don’t really get moving until mid-day they also tend to head for their nighttime safety early in winter. As the sun starts for the far horizon quail will start to shorten their movements and stop feeding. The key to a late season bird hunt is to maximize the middle of the day when the birds are out moving and actively feeding.

The author prefers to use his side by side with size 6 shot-Jason Brooks

Pick the right shotgun, load and choke

With the cold temperatures I will bundle up in layers of wool, down jackets and gloves. Auto-loading shotguns help with the lack of needing to move a pump and aid your follow-up shots. If you do use a pump-action then be sure to use a gun oil that can take cold temperatures. I prefer to use my side by side as it is a challenge as well as a great gun to shoot. Tighten your chokes up from Improved Cylinder to Modified if you wish to continue to use light shot such as size 7 1/2’s. This will help with the dense plumage the birds have put on since early fall. Instead of changing the choke consider moving up to size 6 shot in a high brass. The wider choke allows for an increased pattern size and the larger shot helps penetrate the feathers.

Late season quail will hold very tight, even with a dog on full point-Jason Brooks

Expect tight holding birds

In the early season it seems I can barely get close enough to a covey before they bust and flush. I don’t mind this as it allows me to pick up singles and doubles on the second approach. But in winter the cold weather and snows make it so the birds don’t want to flush easily. This past weekend we were hunting with our Hungarian Vizsla and one bird was six inches off her nose and still wouldn’t flush. The dog held point and I kicked the bush a few times to get it to fly. Since the birds hold so tight most shots will be very close which is another reason to keep the choke wide and use a larger shot.

Hunt into the wind to give your dog the best chance to find the birds-Jason Brooks

Watch the weather

Cloudy days and days with lots of moisture, either in snow or fog, makes for a long and tough day of bird hunting. This is mostly because the birds will be in dense cover to keep from getting wet and cold. It can be almost impossible to get a covey to move or flush in these conditions. More than once I have seen quail running around in a big thicket but no matter what I did they wouldn’t flush. Try and hunt sunny days as the birds will be on the move and out in the warm sunlight. If there is a breeze then make sure to work your dog into the wind as the scent can travel and cause your dog to “false point” when hunting with the wind or even pick up birds from behind. I’ve made the mistake of hunting with the wind and walk right past birds only to have them flush behind me.

A late season quail hunt is one of the best ways to spend a winter day-Jason Brooks

Keep in mind that if you are cold then so is your dog. Give them some extra food at the end of the day to help them regulate their temperatures and get their strength back. Water for your four legged hunting partner and for yourself is often overlooked in the winter. Be sure to offer it to your dog regularly. The season is only a few weeks away from the end so on the next sunny day get out and chase some late season quail.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Six of the Best Shots of All Time

– A 9.3×62 solid dropped this elephant within arm’s reach of the hunter. No chance for a second shot! (this photo courtesy Norma).

 Would you rather make one eye-popping shot or never miss? Can you do either?

In the autumn of 1908 in what is now lower Tanzania, elephant hunter James Sutherlin fired the right-hand barrel of his .577 into the chest of a bull. Heart intact, the elephant charged. The second shot also missed its mark. The animal grabbed Sutherlin and flung him, then snatched him up again and hurled him against a tree. Badly injured, he fumbled his .318 onto the shoulder of his tracker, who, astonishingly, had not run for his life! Unable to steady the rifle, Sutherlin missed. The elephant came to finish the men. Telling the African to hold the rifle barrel, Sutherlin coolly cycled the bolt and at 14 yards killed the bull.

It was an important shot after mediocre shooting. Ivory hunters who lived to pen memoirs made enough good shots without muffing the most crucial.

A grandson of the Talla Des man-eater’s last victim poses with the cat. Jim Corbett shot it at 3 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Jim Corbett, who early in the last century hunted man-eating tigers in India’s Kumaon district, had very close shots: “…Within three yards of the bracken I saw a movement …. my first bullet raked her from end to end, and the second bullet broke her neck.” The Talla Des tigress had killed dozens of people.

On the trail of the Chowgarh man-eaters, he came upon them undetected. In thick forest he crept to within 20 steps and, peeking over a tall rock, judged the light-colored animal to be the eldest. He fired; she fell. To his chagrin, Corbett had killed the youngster. An easy shot. A mistake.

By April, 1930, the surviving tigress had killed at least 64 people, and Corbett was again closing in. Beside the jungle trail he noted a pair of rare bird’s eggs. He picked them up. A few steps farther on, he rounded a bend and looked “straight into the tigress’s face” three steps away. The eggs in his palm, he wrote, checked his reflexive urge to cheek the rifle – action that would have cost him his life. With one hand Corbett inched the .275 across his chest. An eternity later, his bullet shattered the man-eater’s spine.

This African bush can limit shots to mere feet. Lives can hinge on fast, accurate delivery of one bullet. (Wayne VanZwoll)

Distance isn’t the only variable that can make a shot difficult.

On a beat (drive) for the Champawat tigress, Corbett loaded two of his three cartridges in a .500 double. When the tigress streaked through an opening, his shot missed. She broke cover again at 30 steps. Absorbing marginal strikes from the remaining rounds, she then vanished into cover. Corbett ran toward the beaters, grabbed from one a derelict shotgun and dashed after the tigress. He found her just as he saw, to his horror, a gap between the gun’s barrels and breech! He fired anyway. And missed! By great good fortune, her previous wounds claimed the tigress at that moment. She had killed more than 400 people.

Perfect shooting is rare. Adequate shooting can be cause for thanks.

Distance isn’t the only variable that makes shots hard. Add position, brush, urgency, target speed….(Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

These days, marksmen and hunters are hailed for hitting at great distance. Having fought the wind and mirage and my pulse to smack targets a mile off, I admire the long-range wunderkinds who ring steel or punch bullsyes far away – if they’re consistent. Accuracy is a measure of repetition.

On 26 June, 1874, buffalo hunter Billy Dixon was one of 28 men asleep in the Texas panhandle town of Adobe Walls. At dawn 700 Comanches led by chief Quanah Parker came to kill. The defenders repulsed the charge with withering rifle fire. But two days later hostiles still lurked near the settlement. When several appeared on a bluff nearly a mile off. Dixon was urged to take a shot with the 1874 Sharps he’d used during the battle. A skilled marksman, he obliged. But even he must have been astonished when, seconds after the blast, an Indian fell from his horse. Whether or not you believe Billy Dixon dropped a hostile at a measured 1,538 yards with a black-powder Sharps, you’re in good company! The tale reminds me of a hunter who fired offhand at a deer vanishing over a distant ridge. “I found him dead – but with no bullet hole! Then I saw a crease between his antlers. My bullet had nicked the skull.”

Not every shot that brings desired results is a good shot, or confirms good marksmanship.

In 1861 recruits wanting to join Colonel Hiram Berdan’s Sharpshooters had to prove themselves. “No man would be enlisted who could not put 10 bullets in succession within five inches from the center at a distance of six hundred feet from a rest or three hundred off hand.” Black powder and iron sights, of course. Few hunters with scoped rifles these days would meet that offhand requirement!

Born in an Ohio cabin in 1860, Phoebe Ann Moses became great exhibition shooter Annie Oakley. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

In succeeding decades exhibition shooters also had to perform consistently. Phoebe Ann Moses was a gifted talent who, at the age of 15, married Frank Butler, a marksman she’d beaten in a local Ohio rifle match. She joined his traveling show, then, as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. On stage she shot coins from Frank’s fingers and a cigarette from the lips of Germany’s Crown Prince. She used a .22 rifle in 1884 to break 4,772 glass balls of 5,000 tossed! In her sixties, badly crippled by an auto accident, she could still hit 25 tossed pennies without a miss.

Texan Ad Topperwein tapped his gifts as an artist to drill “Indian head” profiles in tin with a .22 at the headlong rate of a shot a second. In 1894 he hit 976 of 1,000 airborne 2 ¼-inch disks. Ad perforated postage stamps stuck on airborne washers, and could nip the bullet from a tossed cartridge. Shooting for Winchester, he fired a Model 63 autoloader ejection port up, then spun and shot the .22 hull in its arc! In 1907, firing Model 1903s at tossed 2 ¼-inch blocks, he hit all but nine of 72,000! That record lasted until 1959, when Remington’s Tom Frye used the new Nylon 66 .22 on 100,010 tossed blocks and missed six!

These feats predated computer wizardry that could make fiction look like fact.

Expert marksman David Tubb shows the form that, with superior equipment, delivers long-range hits. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Winchester hired Herb Parsons in 1929. Deadly with a shotgun, Herb could toss a stack of seven clays and with a Model 12 pump shatter all before any hit dirt. He shot tossed marbles with a .22. Talking non-stop, he pulped airborne fruits and vegetables with all manner of rifles, swapping them without pause or help. From the hip he emptied a .351 auto to dust 10 clay disks on edge. “They’re not hard to hit, folks, just easy to miss!” The last of the era’s great shooters, Herb Parsons died at age 51 from a blood clot.

Men and women who bet their lives and reputations on consistent hits demonstrated shooting all too rare now. Instead of benches and bipods, they relied on bodies disciplined by long training to steady rifles – or deftly bring them alive – for the shot. With iron sights and steel nerves they survived the jungle and wowed audiences. Modern barrels, bullets and optics have extended our reach. But marksmanship, not hardware, has defined the best shots ever.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Preliminary halibut dates set for 2018, but catch quota will likely be reduced

The preliminary halibut fishing dates for 2018 have been set, but catch quotas won’t be decided until late next month and it’s likely they could be lower than it had been in past seasons.

“The (Pacific Fishery Management Council) adopted the 2018 halibut dates at the (Nov. 28-29) meeting, but still need to be approved by (International Pacific Halibut Commission) in late January and then officially adopted into federal rule sometime after that,” said Heather Reed, the state Fish and Wildlife policy coordinator.

The preliminary halibut fishing dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Catch Areas 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 only) 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 is open first Saturday after the closure of the primary fishery and open daily until the quota is projected to be taken. State fisheries plans to set aside 10 percent of the to be determined catch quota or 2,000 pounds, whichever is less.

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

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

While the tentative dates are decided, the discussion at the IPHC November meeting found that halibut populations weren’t as strong as they’ve been in previous years.

“There were some pretty strong declines for halibut populations in (Washington, Oregon and California), and (Canada and southeast Alaska),” Reed said. “This means the quota could potentially be down this coming year.”

The entire West Coast catch quota in 2017 for sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial fisheries was 1.33-million pounds compared to 2016’s quota of 1.14-million pounds.

Of that the Washington sport catch quota was 237,762 pounds in 2017, and 214,110 pounds in 2016, 2015 and 2014.

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

“The good news was we stayed under our sport allocation, which we haven’t done for several years and that was regarded as a success,” Reed said. “The 2017 fishing season was good overall.”

Reed said the average size of halibut at Neah Bay and La Push was 18 pounds; Ilwaco was 14 pounds; Westport was 16 pounds; and Puget Sound was 24 pounds.

The IPHC will meet the week of January 22 in Portland, Oregon to set catch quotas from California north to Alaska.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will then make its final approval on fishing dates sometime in March or sooner.

Celebrates the New Year with coastal razor clam digs and more on horizon

Coastal razor clam diggers can ring in New Year’s Day on some beaches, and more digs have been set in late January to early February.

The next digs are New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks (minus-1.2 feet low tide at 5:12 p.m.); and Monday (Jan. 1) at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.7 at 6:02 p.m.). Digging is allowed during low tides after 12 p.m. only.

Other proposed digs are: Jan. 28, (-0.4 at 4:06 p.m.) at Mocrocks; Jan. 29 (1.0 at 4:59 p.m.) at Copalis; Jan. 30 (-1.5 at 5:47 p.m.) at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Jan. 31 (-1.6 at 6:33 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; Feb. 1 (-1.5 at 7:17 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Feb. 2 (-1.0 at 8 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; and Feb. 3 (-0.4 at 8:42 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.

Marine toxin levels remain low on all coastal beaches, but protocol will have WDFW staff out taking clam samples, and two clean samples are needed before the digs can be approved.

During the previous digs Dec. 1-4, 26,688 diggers dug 242,674 razor clams.

“It was kind of a mixed bag of clam digging, and the weather didn’t exactly cooperate for the first couple of days (Dec. 1-2),” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

By Dec. 3, everything turned around and it was fairly easy limits – diggers must keep the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition – at three open beaches (Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis) although some still struggled at south-end of Long Beach.

“I was back at Mocrocks (Dec. 4), and it was perfect clam digging conditions,” Ayres said. “The surf was down, but it was cold (36 degrees) with a light northeasterly wind that felt like you were in a cold storage room.”

“The people who came prepared with lanterns did fine,” Ayres said. “Some good diggers managed to get their clams by 5 p.m. before it got dark, but I saw some who struggled especially since they had a tiny headlamp or simply nothing at all.”

Diggers were still finding a mixed bag of razor clam sizes, and one of the keys is if you’re finding small ones in a certain area of the beach don’t be afraid to move to another spot.

A breakdown by beach showed 11,578 diggers at Long Beach Dec. 2-4 had 78,587 clams for 6.8 clam per person average; 6,910 at Twin Harbors Dec. 2-4 had 69,210 for 10.0; 6,583 at Copalis Dec. 1 and Dec. 3 had 79,000 for 12.0; and 5,566 at Mocrocks Dec. 2 and Dec. 4 had 55,518 for 10.0.

The season total for 10 days of digging that began Oct. 6 is 82,774 diggers with 962,647 razor clams. Season average per digger is 10.9 at Long Beach; 11.9 at Twin Harbors; 12.2 at Copalis; and 12.0 at Mocrocks.

“I talked anecdotally with some local community business folks who were thrilled about the turnout, and said customers were coming and spending the night,” Ayres said.

Ayres pointed that state fisheries plan to save as many clams as they can for daylight morning low tide digs in the spring.