Billfish Bonanza (Part dos)

Well, the first ever Outdoor Line Billfish Bonanza is in the books and without exception, a great time was had by all who attended!

After the three days of fishing the TOL crew sets up for the awards banquet. Here, Kathy Nelson readies the raffle prizes and Robbie Tobeck surveys the banner in La Iguana, the Los Suenos Hyatt golf course club house.

 

With the Billfish Bonanza participants in place, Robbie Tobeck addresses the crowd as Nelly and Robbo ready the raffle drawing.

 

Third place honors went to Team Fish Tales who put 2,750 Points on the board with a combination of Sailfish and dorado.  

 

Team Bite the Big One pulled some major final day heroics going from last to second place with an impressive 2900 Points. You might recognize former Philadelphia Phillies ace Larry Christenson, second from the right.  

 

First place with an amazing 4050 Points was Team Outdoor Emporium/Sportco and captain Mike Coombs is all smiles as he takes home the hardware!

 

Second place in the raffle went to Tom Kane and he will be enjoying an all expenses paid trip of a lifetime to the Kenai River courtesy of John Whitlatch of Reel Adventures!

 

Grand prize of the first annual Outdoor Line Billfish Bonanza went to Kent Molitor who took home a complete Lowrance packe for his boat including radar and HDS GPS/Sonar head unit! Here, The lucky winner is bracketed by Robbie Tobeck on the left and Lowrance's Mike Campbell on the right! 

This year's event was one heck of a lot of fun in the sun with over 55 sailfish landed along with dorado and yellowfin tuna. We hope you can join us next year. I guarentee that the March weather in Costa Rica will be better that the last days of winter in the Pacific northwest!

Billfish Bonanza (Part uno)

Greetings from Costa Rica!

We arrived in San Jose Sunday evening and hit the first snag of the trip as Costa Rica Customs wanted to know what we were doing with two 50lb boxes of T-shirts and duffel bags full of tackle and fishing swag! It was "Gringo Grande" to the rescue as Robbo Endsley persuaded the customs official that we were not any type of sportfishing terrorists. In his best pidgeon spanish, Robbo assured the concerned customs official that this mass of gear were all "Give-away's Senor,…Free…gratis…for our amigos…"

Once we arrived at Los Suenos Resort we settled in for a quick five-hour snooze and it was up and at 'em for our first day on the ocean. Here, Endsley and Tobeck get the latest fishing lowdown from "The Sunny One's" expert deckhand Christian.

 

My wife Kathy is all smiles as she lands her first (and second) billfish ever! In the first hour of our trip we hooked two sails, landed one and had a marlin in the spread!

 

Robbo didn't have to wait very long as we enjoyed very steady action on our first day. Here he is giving me photography advice while I'm telling him how to play that sailfish!

 

Ever the competitor, Tobeck's sail shows off it's vertical…"I made him do that" says Robbie….yeah….right…

 

The action continues hot and heavy as Robbo jumps in on my turn by doubling up on two dandy sailfish! You've got to keep an eye on Endsley… he's sneaky like that…

 

Tobeck's next sail has him working up a sweat….that and the fact that it's 90 degrees on the ocean….

 

It's a proud moment in any father's life to watch his son take on a billfish. Here, Matt is on a hot sailfish which spend more time in the air than it did in the water and yes, we do have footage of Robbo launching Matt off the dock, a rite of passage for every first time successful billfisherman!

 

Robbie's wife Sonya Tobeck, is a real trooper and she whupped this sail's tail in a matter of minutes!

 

We've only been in Costa Rica for three days and already it's the most memorable family vacation I've ever experienced. The Billfish Bonanza begins tomorrow and I'm positive there will be much, much more to tell. Now, if you'll excuse me, all of this typing in the heat has made me thirsty. Un cerveza muy frio…por favor!!!

World Champion Elk Callers Crowned in Vegas

RENO, Nev.-Elk callers from nine states and one Canadian province have earned Top 3 honors in the RMEF/Leupold World Elk Calling Championships for 2011.

Competition was held as part of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's annual Elk Camp & Hunting, Fishing and Outdoor Expo, which ended March 6 in Reno, Nev. The event helps raise awareness of elk, habitat and the conservation initiatives of RMEF.

Results:

Professional Division
1. Corey Jacobsen, Boise, Ida.
2. Joel Turner, Eatonville, Wash.
3. Audrey McQueen, Eagar, Ariz.

Men's Division
1. Dirk Durham, Moscow, Ida.
2. Gary Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
3. Dustin Howard, Friday Harbor, Wash.

Women's Division
1. Misty Jacobsen, Priest River, Ida.
2. Amy Morris, Payson, Utah
3. Jessie Coy, Cody, Wyo.

Natural Voice Division
1. Michael Hatten, Elko, Nev.
2. Remi Warren, Reno, Nev.
3. Sheila Veerkamp, Victor, Mont.

Youth Division
1. Greg Hubbell Jr., Belmont, Calif.
2. Brayden Langley, McMinnville, Ore.
3. Russell Nemetchek, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Pee Wee Division
1. Colton Crawford, McMinnville, Ore.
2. William Card, Fallon, Nev.
3. Tucker Rash, Fallon, Nev.

In the competition, amateur-level callers have 30 seconds to mimic cow elk sounds, followed by bull sounds. Professionals are required to make specific calls such as barks, whistles and screaming bugles. Most callers blow across a latex reed placed inside the mouth. In the natural voice division, however, no reeds are allowed. A variety of plastic tubes are used like megaphones, giving the sounds realistic resonance. Judges score each competitor anonymously.

Winners received prizes and cash ranging from $500 to $2,500.

Prize sponsors included Leupold, Block Fusion, Cabela's, Horn Hunter Packs, Hoyt, Kershaw Knives, Montana Decoy, Montana Silversmiths, New Archery Products (NAP), Remington, Schnee's and Traditions Performance Firearms.

Leupold, America's Optics Authority™, has been a title sponsor of the competition for three years, as well as a longtime supporter of RMEF's work to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.9 million acres-a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved atwww.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.
Contact:
Steve Wagner, Blue Heron Communications, 800-654-3766 or steve@blueheroncomm.com

March Madness

March.

Schizophrenic as an ax murderer with a side job as an ER Doctor.

One day you’re basking in spring-like temps, flat calm waters and the next you’re trying to catch your hat before it blows off your head as the wind knocks foam off of the whitecaps.
So, when we saw a window in the weather, we headed for the banks. Buoyed by a glowing report from Tony Floor (and maybe a waypoint or two) it was Coyote bank or bust!

We launched at Cornet Bay just inside of  Deception Pass and ran west for 35 minutes in a small surface chop to find four other boats on Coyote. The US/Canada border splits Coyote Bank and I was surprised to find that only one of the boats were trolling like us. The rest of the boats were anchored on the Canadian side halibut fishing! What’s more, they were boats from the US which had purchased Canadian licenses. The ability to get that Canadian non-resident license is a nice option for Americans who want to start their halibut seasons early!

We made our first Pass on Coyote Bank and were quickly rewarded when my friend Eric Fagan boated this fat blackmouth!

Every drop we were greeted by a bite but as far as keeper chinook were concerned we were done with the one! Juvenile lingcod, kelp greenling and shakers were the best we could muster as the banks are nothing short of a nursery for the young, rapidly growing residents of the Straits of  Juan de Fuca.

As we left the banks that sunny Sunday, the south wind started to pick up and we knew if we wanted to fish later this week, it would have to be in the rivers.
March can be more than a little unpredictable weather-wise but there is one thing you can count on: Columbia springers. Well, maybe “count on” is a little optimistic for the second week in March but the thought of a springer on the barbeque drives a man to do crazy things!

While we were lucky on the banks to get bit on our first pass, it was not until our last pass on the Columbia that we finally got our fish but it was the right one!

Phil Michelsen admires his first Columbia River springer of the year but he would only be taking half of it home! I was ready to wrestle a filet away from Phil but he generously offered me half!

The month of March offers many angling challenges but very few opportunities to take advantage of them. Here’s hoping you get a weather window and get lucky, Even if it is only for one fish!

Tips for Saving Fuel, Do it Now or Pay Later

From BoatUS.com ALEXANDRIA, Va. March 15, 2011 – With gas prices forecast to remain higher than last summer, BoatUS has six tips on spring commissioning that can be done now to save you money on gas all summer long:

Lighten the load is one of easiest no-cost things to save on gas. Clear out all of that junk that's been stored aboard the boat over winter.

Get a tune-up: An annual tune-up is a must if you're truly serious about saving gas.

Check the prop: Props with little dings should be taken to a repair shop now. This is also the time to ensure you are happy with your prop's performance – have a discussion with your marina or local prop shop to ensure you still have the right prop installed based on your current boating needs.

Paint the bottom: For boats docked in salt or brackish water, keeping the fuel-robbing "green gunk" growth from adhering to your boat's hull can save a lot of fuel. But you'll need to ensure the vessel has a new coat of bottom paint put on, making it difficult for anything to grow on the hull bottom.

Check the trim tabs: Unbalanced boats chew up the gas. During spring commissioning, ensure that trim tabs function properly. Check the reservoir for leaks.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Screamin Reels!

I take some heat from time to time on the show for my so called aversion to river fishing.  While it's no secret I love to be on the salt or on the big lake, I like catching fish in any body of water, heck, I used to own a driftboat so cut me some slack.  Sometimes fishing is about choices and when it comes down to making a choice of where I'm gonna fish on any given day, it always seems that fishing on the Salmon Hawk wins out.  However, when Derek Anderson sent Robbo and I an email in early January inviting us to fish the Cowlitz with him in early March, well it didn't take long for me to hit the reply button and mark it on my calendar.  I've known Derek for a few years now but I've never had the chance to fish with him, this wasn't an opportunity that I was going to pass up. 

The alarm went off about 4:30 but I had already been awake for about a half hour anticipating the day of fishing.  The plan was for me to meet Robbo in Tacoma and carpool on down to the Cowlitz where we would meet up with Derek and one of his customers and my and Robbo's new friend, Keith Johansen of Johansen Mechanical in Woodinville.  When we got there, Derek and Keith were already in the sled waiting so we hopped out of the truck, threw on the Grundens and jumped aboard Derek's sled. 

The river was running high and fast so the plan was to back troll with divers and some cured shrimp.  About 3 minutes after hopping on board, it was lines in and we were fishing.  We hit a few spots as Derek and Robbo talked different techniques. I spent my time listening and trying to pick up as much as I could from the two steelhead pros. 

We were on about our third hole when I looked over Keith's shoulder to see one of the back rods dancing.  Robbo yelled fish on, Keith jumped on it and Derek grabbed the net.  Keith played the fish perfectly as Robbo and I grabbed our cameras.  True to form this chrome bright steelhead made a couple of jumps and put on a nice show for us.  Unfortunately my trigger finger was just a little slow as I got some almost amazing pics.  Soon, Keith got the fish next to the boat, Derek got the net around it, and it was high fives all around.

 

 

Shortly after landing the fish it was time to eat a little lunch.  We were all in for a big surprise as Derek had brought some moose steaks for the grill.  I had never had any moose so I was really looking forward to trying it.  Derek had it marinating in some steak seasoning and italian dressing.  Keith fired up the grill, threw on the steaks and started cutting some smoked cheese to go with my smoked tuna for an appetizer.  Not only did we just boat a nice fish, we were also eating like kings.

Unfortunately, even though the fishing was fun and the food was great, the weather wasn't.  With full bellies and fish in the box, we decided to call it a great day after another squall started dumping on us.  If your like me and don't get out on our many great rivers in this state very often or even if your an old dog looking for some new tricks, then book a trip with Derek. Thanks for a great day out on the Cowlitz Derek.  

Another Update from Olympia

It seems that every time I try to fish lately I wake to a windstorm, snow, freezing rain, or just another short day of daylight.  I happen to have a really bad case of cabin fever going right now but at least I know that help is just around the corner with our trip to Costa Rica.  The one nice thing about the extended winters we have here in the NW is the fact that we get a chance to keep an eye on the legislature while they are in session.  So with that, here is an update to what has been going on.

 Merger Bill

SB 5669 is currently in Ways and Means and could get scheduled for a public hearing.  Just as a reminder, this is the bill that came from the governor's proposal to  merge WDFW into DNR and create this big new bureaucracy that would have supposedly saved the taxpayer $2.5 million out of a multi-billion deficit.  This bill would have also neutered our commission, the same one that the voters of this state overwhelmingly voted for.  Most people saw this for what it was, a power grab by the governor's office.  Even though recreational anglers showed up in force to put a stop to this nonsense, the bill still has some legs.  It has been changed and no longer takes the commission to an advisory panel, it still merges WDFW with the Parks Department.  This change is the idea of Senator Ranker and he claims there will be savings but at this point I haven't seen anything showing where those savigns will come from. 

The other problem with this bill is that from now on the director would  come from a list of recommendations of both the Parks and Wildlife commissions and then be appointed by the governor and approved by the senate.  This would make the position of the director very political and not in the best interest recreational outdoorsmen.  I also fear that recreatinal anglers and hunters would take a greater roll in funding parks if this merger were to happen.  In my mind we need to stop this bill, there is nothing to gain for recreatinal anglers and hunters.  Stay tuned.

Derelict Gear

SB 5661 and HB 1717.  The senate version of this bill, sponsored by Senator Sharon Nelson, has passed out of Senator Ranker's committee but might be in trouble and needs your help.  If this bill does not pass out of the Rules Committee by 5pm on the 7th it is dead.  Don't let that happen,  respond to this votervoice notice immediately, http://www.votervoice.net/link/target/ccapnw/NN5F2cf8.aspx    When I testified before the committee there wasn't anyone there that opposed the bill but we need to keep communicating with our senator's to make sure this thing goes through, I don't want it to get buried.  On the house side of things the bill didn't even get a hearing in Bryan Blake's committee.  Thsi bill to require gillnetters to report their lost nets is a no brainer and one that everyone should be behind.  Where is Bryan Blake's vision on this?  If I'm not mistaken, he represents economically depressed areas like Westport and instead of promoting recreatinal angling and the dollars we do bring and could bring if given more fishing opportunities in the region, he chooses to side with the few commercial fisherman in his district by not having a hearing.  Representative Blake, what about all the charter guys in your district?

Capitol Budget

Not much to say hear other than you need to contact your representative to let them know you want money in the capital budget to fune hatcheries and enhancement.

Salmon Enhancement

HB 1698 and SB 5291.  In 1993, citing dwindling recreational fishing opportunities for salmon and marine bottomfish in Puget Sound, Washington created the Puget Sound Recreational Salmon and Marine Fish Enhancement Program.  This program was to fund a blackmouth program by charging recreatinal anglers a salmon endorsement when buying a license.  This is the same program that had the bad publicity when the state audit program released their wrong headed audit this past year. I wasn't living in the state when this was passed but I read this original bill this last week and it really seems to me that we as recreational anglers have really let something slip away.  This original enhancement program not only established blackmouth funding but it also gave directives to recovering bottomfish (we can no longer fish for rockfish in Puget Sound), opportunities to work to control predators for more balanced management (both bird and marine mammal predation is a major problem), enhancement opportunities (no artificial reefs for fishing have been placed since), and the list goes on.  This program has not been as successful as it should so now we have this new legislation.

This new legislation is needed and is pretty much the same but does have some changes that are questionable to me.  I like the idea of success being measured by angler trips, it still has salmon and bottomfish enhancement and fishing opportunities as a goal.  I do however question why the management of predators has been removed.  That being said, we need this bill to continue to move forward and I urge you to let your legislators know how important recreational angleing is to this state and encourage them to ad back in the language regarding management of predators and then vote yes.

Rags to Riches on the Quinault River

If you remember my Salmon River blog back in January where I mentioned that you'd better get to the Quinault River after it comes back into shape. It's in shape folks and now is the time to be there. Like…right now!

The Quinault gets it's far share of gagger-sized steelhead in the 20 pound range and about every other year you'll hear of a thumper pulled from a gillnet that's 30 pounds or better. The biggest I can remember was a 38 pounder yanked from a gillnet half a decade ago on this fine coastal river. That one caused me some sleep loss!

The lower Quinault River below the lake lies entirely within the Quinault Indian Reservation and a native guide is required to fish this part of the river. Two hatcheries reside on this stretch, including the Quinault National Fish Hatchery at Cook Creek and a hatchery operated by the tribe at the outlet from Lake Quinault at Highway 101.

Cook Creek is literally stupid with steelhead in November and December and the hatchery at the lake gets it's fish in February and March. The tribe only broodstocks the biggest bruisers they can find at this hatchery and it's no wonder the fish that return there are monsters. That's what we were after…a trophy class winter steelhead.

Scott Sypher showed me around the national fish hatchery while we were waiting for our guide Keenam Howard (360-589-2722) to show up. It's a huge facility that produces big numbers of winter steelhead and fall coho. Scott fishes Cook Creek every year in November and it's nothing for him to hook thirty plus steelhead in a morning.     

The tribe places an electric barrier across the creek when the hatchery fish return to keep them from straying upstream and mixing with the wild fish. I'm fairly certain you don't want to pee on this electric fence, as the results could be deadly.

Keenam showed up at exactly 7:30 a.m. and we followed him to the makeshift ramp on the river. He had the perfect sled for fishing this river and it wasn't long before we were drifting downstream hammering all of the Quinault's trophy steelhead water with Aero Puffs and rags baited with Pautzke cured eggs or fresh sand shrimp.

Keenams uncle, Archie Howard, is also a guide on this river and told us right where the fish were when he was on the river a few days earlier. The gravel bar you see downstream in the photo below is creek "X" and that's where "bidness time" began for us yesterday. We fished a few stellar runs above this that I'm certain hold fish over the course of the winter, but we were only heating up the tires for what was to come.

Scott and I chose to fish rags because the visibility was about two feet and these were agressive wild steelhead. No need to get all micro on these fish. The rags float high off the bottom and when they clamp down on this offering the yarn gets stuck in their yapper, making for a very obvious and fun bite. Tip this riggin's with a cluster of Borax'O Fire cured eggs or a sandshrimp tail and it's business time.

I landed a chrome little 5 pound steelhead right off the mouth of the creek before we drifted down into the main run and the real fun started. Before Scott landed the chrome buck in the photo below we lost 6 straight steelhead. The water was still a little on the cool side and the fish were hitting right the end of the swing, making for a tough, tough hook set. It didn't make no nevermind though because the sun was out and we were having fun! 

Scott stroked into another nice buck of about 12 pounds right after he landed the chromer above. He was fishing a sandshrimp tail with a rag on about a two foot leader and they were pickin' up what he was throwin' down.

I would've liked to have seen more of the river, but we were getting bit so consistently in this run that we just couldn't justify leaving. By mid afternoon we had solid hookups on twelve steelhead, sorry we don't count "bites", and number thirteen was just moments away.

That particular steelhead is one that I won't soon forget. My Aero Puff and egg combo had ticked the bottom for about ten feet when a steelhead started mowwing on it. I lowered the rod to let the fish really get ahold of the bait, waited for a few seconds, and then let him have it!

I came back hard on the fish and nothing happened…it just layed there. I reeled down on it as far as I could and put as much pressure on the fish as I could and still nothing. I mean NOTHING! All of us were looking at my rod thinking it must be a snag when all of a sudden I get three huge headshakes and Kapuuuuuut…out comes the hook. That wasn't just any fish!

Two casts later and a little lower in the tailout I layed into this 16-ish buck that made a spunky showing of himself before coming alongside the boat for a quick photo. Unlucky fish number thirteen, however, is still probably waiting in the tailout for another taste of Pautzke's. Could it have been one of those bruiser Quinny steelhead we always hear about. It certainly could have been. 


After the steelhead frenzy had finally ended Scott hooked into this really nice trout and we had some discussion as to what kind of trout it was. While we were pretty sure it was a cutthroat there were no obvious markings indicating it as such. It had no red slashes under it's jaw and no teeth to speak of. The jaw on a cutty will extend past it's eye and this one's jaw was about even with it's eye. Is this a cutthroat? You tell me.

Every time we landed a fish Scott and I would take a long, hard look at their fins to determine if they were from the tribal hatchery or were actually wild fish. Hatchery steelhead usually have dorsal rays that are disconnected and tattered and most of the fins will have a rounded or worn appearance from swimming in the concrete pools when they are juveniles. We couldn't determine one way or another if any of our fish were hatcheries, so we let them all go.

Here's some video of some of the great fish we caught yesterday with Keenam. Just a taste of what steelhead fishing is all about. To really understand it you'll have to get out there and see it for yourself.

 

The Quinault River is in shape right now and the steelhead are there. Fishing with a tribal guide means bringing your own tackle, gear, and bait. We were the only boat on the river yesterday and I'll pay for that kind of access any time.

Grab a room at the Quinault Beach Casino soon and hit the Quinault while it's still in shape. There's a clam dig coming up also, a perfect weekend to double dip with some winter steelhead fishing and razor clams.  

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com 

Takin’ it to the Bank(s) by Tony “the Truth” Floor

By Tony Floor                                     I was looking back in time, a few days ago, to previous March columns and not surprising to me, the common theme in those writings was my focus on the “banks” in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca. Clearly, from a saltwater salmon angler’s perspective, it is a time of the year when resident or migrating hatchery produced chinook salmon, which become king salmon for this year’s cycle, actively feed on sandlance or candlefish abundant on many of these banks.

During my career at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, I spent significant time attempting to learn the feeding and migratory habits of these hatchery produced chinook salmon primarily in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The foundation of the data, is derived from a tiny microscopic metal tag, injected into the snouts of about 10% of hatchery production , before they are released from the fresh water of their origin. This tag, once recovered by WDFW personnel who check fish landed at boat ramps and docks throughout Washington, are examined under a microscope and identified, relative to their hatchery release. Year after year, the migratory patterns of these hatchery chinook salmon are very similar, governed by the hand of Mother Nature who controls survival rates.

Back to the banks. The north end of Middle Bank, the south end of Hein Bank, Coyote Bank, and Salmon Bank have been the most popular fishing areas by anglers willing to run to these underwater sand and gravel habitats in search of baitfish and chinook salmon. Predominately, ebb tides on the fore-mentioned banks produce the best fishing and catching results. To be successful on Middle Bank, for example, look for an outgoing tide, fishing a downrigger five feet of the bottom, in 120-140 feet of water, with a plug cut herring spinning about 25 feet behind the downrigger ball. Money! I start on the northeast corner, trolling west to the U.S.-Canada line, and turn south on the northwest corner following the contour of the bank for a mile or two. Repeat the strategy on the ebb tide to slack. When the current begins to slow down, heading toward slack, is when the blackmouth go on the bite. Women and children are not safe.

Coyote Bank, adjacent to the U.S.-Canada boundary line, located on a northwest, southeast line between Victoria and Dungeness Spit is my favorite place to fish in March. If five boats show up to join you, on an ebb tide during flat water conditions, that’s a crowd. The technique is identical to my description above on Middle Bank. Start on the east end of the bank, in 110 feet of water and troll west, down the bank, following the depth contour to 140 feet and repeat. Abundance of baitfish is uncommon here, but do not let that fool you as the chinook salmon will be in the neighborhood. They cruise, I believe, on or around the bank, in search of small schools of sandlance and a rare plug cut herring. A very light tap-tap-tap on the end of the rod tip, followed by reeling down hard and fast until the rod buries into the water and it’s game on. Always fish with the current on these banks and it is
mandatory to stay within 10 feet of the bottom; five feet is perfect.

As much as I like to fish these banks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, March weather can be very unstable. I am looking for winds in the eastern Strait forecasted at 5-15. It is fishable at 10-20, barely, but uncomfortable and inefficient. Pick your days. The fish will be there.

As I reported last month, I planned to spend time at the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic and the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby (formerly known as the Discovery Bay Derby, or the Iron Man Derby headquartered out of Gardnier on Discovery Bay) on President’s Day weekend. In summary, 67 hatchery produced chinook salmon were entered in the Roche Derby with a record setting 28 pound, 10 ounce “blackmouth” chinook, caught by Derek Floyd from Stanwood. It was the largest chinook ever caught in the eight year history of the Roche Harbor tournament and produced $21,000 for my new friend Derek Floyd. The top five chinook salmon weighed between 18 and 28 pounds. That’s incredible considering last year’s winning fish was in the 16-pound class. What’s my point? Easy, this is the winter of big blackmouth which has been the theme since the San Juan Island region opened to winter chinook (hatchery produced, fin clipped only) fishing on December 1st.

A week ago, at the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby, an 18.9 pound chinook produced first place honors, again accounting for the presence of larger than normal chinook salmon during this winter season. The message is plain and simple for this cat. I’m headed to the Straits to bury a few rod tips of my own!

In the meantime, a big spring chinook run is forecasted for the lower Columbia River which opens in a few days. Check the Fish and Wildlife website for details. However, this fishery should get going in the next couple of weeks, usually teeing off around Cathlamet, as the “springers” migrate their way upstream to Columbia River and Snake River hatcheries. The very end of the month should, if the forecast is accurate, light up the Columbia like Cherynobyl did to the Soviet Union.

On the political side of fish news, you may have seen a Seattle Times story in mid-February where federal fishery biologists have declared the importance of “king salmon” to the diet of ESA-listed southern resident Orca whale. They have learned this science from chasing pods of killer whales and scooping up “fish poop” for diet analysis. I think I’ll stick to my day job. This announcement may, I repeat may, result in extracting another slice from the annual salmon harvest pie, ensuring Orca whale are ensured fresh king salmon. The good news in this announcement, is that Orca, again, according to limited science, prefer some of the Queen’s Fraser River king salmon, which are not in significant abundance in Washington waters, with the exception of the northeast region of Area 7 around Pt. Roberts. The process will result in discussions and meetings, hosted by the fed, to discuss this issue with the tribes (who intercept Fraser River king salmon stocks in their northern Washington gillnet and purse seine fisheries), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
along with sport and commercial fisheries. The road to a decision will be controversial and take months, if not a year or two.

One more time, back to March. It’s time to visit the banks. Blackmouth, baby, in their prime. See you on the water.

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