Upper Columbia River top spot for summer chinook and sockeye, plus 710 ESPN Outdoor Line radio host Joey Pyburn offers insight on Puget Sound chinook season Leave a reply
By Mark Yuasa
The fishing adrenaline rush hits me around this time every summer and right now opportunities are exploding all across the state.
Let’s start along the Upper Columbia River at a fishery known as Chelan Falls where summer chinook action has been going strong as fish continue to climb the 12-plus fish ladders – 80,288 counted at Bonneville Dam through July 18 waxing a preseason forecast of 38,300.
Many of these kings are migrating to net pens located at the base of the outfall from the powerhouse plant where cold water is pushed out from Chelan Gorge into the warmer water of the Columbia mainstem.
“This is just a wonderful fishery and I’ll spend a lot of days right now bouncing between Chelan Falls and also upstream and downstream chasing kings and sockeye,” said Aaron Peterson, owner of Peterson’s Northwest Guide Service (http://petersonsnorthwest.com/ or 425-220-2928 or email@example.com).
My son Tegan and I had a chance to fish with Peterson on July 14 and the boat ride from the launch at Chelan County PUD’s Beebe Bridge Park just off Highway 97 (34 miles north of Wenatchee) to the fishing spot on the western side of the Columbia took only a matter of minutes.
This is a daybreak bite so sleeping-in isn’t an option and being on the water by 4:30 a.m. is the program. Once that sun hits the shallow water the bite for these big kings seems to wane. When this occurs, most anglers will roll out from the shallow depths to look for fish hugging the contours of the bottom in much deeper water although you’ll still find some hovering at mid-depth as we did later on.
In the pre-dawn darkness of the morning we fished there was already about 50 boats trolling a tight area in shallow water of 25 to 35 feet along the western shoreline as the sun slowly rose along the steep eastern hillsides just below the Beebe Bridge.
Getting the bait in front of the fish means most will either troll with a sliding sinker of 8 and 10 ounces or employ the downriggers, which can be cumbersome since you want to make sure your lines are constantly in the water. Plus, the milfoil can grab the wires of the downrigger causing you to troll with grass covering your entire set-up. These kings aren’t here to dine on salad!
Peterson’s set up was an 8- and 10-ounce sliding cannon ball sinker with a chain swivel (for better rotation) attached to a ProTroll ProFlash and a leader with a 3.5 spinner or a Brad’s Superbait Mini filled with NW Bait & Scent in a mashed up canned tuna scent concoction.
Anglers are allowed to use a two-pole endorsement so be sure to purchase that because the more lines in the water increases your chances to catch fish.
Once we got the lines into the water, we began trolling upstream parallel to Chelan Falls Road near the Powerhouse Park toward to Beebe Bridge and then made a turn and headed back down toward Chelan Falls Park.
About 20 minutes on a slight turn downstream and just above the park we saw the rear fishing rod jerk hard into the water.
“Fish on” shouted Peterson as my son grabbed ahold of the rod with the fish barreling downstream and quickly sizzling line off the reel. This king didn’t want to cooperate and much to the excitement of my son it sulked beneath the boat a few times and made a couple of runs away from the boat before Peterson was able to net the 15-pound hatchery fish.
We moved back up into the trolling pattern and down went the middle rod. This time I managed to land another hatchery king that weighed 13 pounds.
The sun finally rose above the hillsides and then the bite gradually faded. We did see a king caught here and there so we decided to run upstream to the bridge deadline and then trolled downstream through deeper water.
“When it’s slow I will do a downhill troll by tricking these fish to bite instinctively,” Peterson said. “The water levels (up as high as six or seven feet the day we fished) have a lot to do with the bite up here (at Chelan Falls) and the water flow too.”
In the bottom of the 9th inning of our trip on the last downhill troll we hooked our third fish at mid-depth which was another nice 14-pound hatchery king that my son brought to the boat after a few minutes of hustle and tussle.
Feeling invigorated after a good day on the water, we arrived at the Beebe Park boat launch by 10 a.m., and made it back to Seattle (roughly a three-hour drive) in time for a late lunch!
Chelan Falls isn’t the only show in town, and about 20 miles upstream is Brewster where you’ll also find a good mix of kings and sockeye and those trolling below Rocky Reach Dam are also nailing decent numbers of sockeye.
“The water temperature is warming up and creates a thermal barrier at the Okanogan River mouth for fish heading to Brewster, and those fish will stack up and not go anywhere,” said Austin Moser, owner of Austin’s Northwest Adventures.
The Brewster area will produce action well into mid-August and also keep tabs on the sockeye counts at Tumwater Dam because there is a good chance Lake Wenatchee could open if spawning escapement goals are achieved.
Word on Puget Sound kings
The chinook salmon fishery opened this past Thursday in northern and central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 9 and 10), which sputtered out of the starting gate although by the end of Sunday catches started to pick up.
“We had a great opener the past few years with fish being caught from Midchannel Bank (off Port Townsend) down to Possession Bar, and this opener just wasn’t like that,” said Joey Pyburn, owner of Ray’s Bait Works in Granite Falls and co-host of 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line. “This is just the beginning and definitely not the end so now isn’t the time give up.”
Pyburn and I had a very thoughtful discussion about what had gone down the past two days and we agreed the bulk of the Puget Sound chinook return is still lurking somewhere out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and likely clear up the west side of Vancouver Island.
Anglers need to remember these migratory kings are coming in waves and the first signal of their arrival occurred two weeks ago when many were finding good success hooking and releasing oodles of fish around Jefferson Head and as far south as the Clay Banks in Tacoma (which opened for catch and keep hatchery kings on July 1).
“It’s likely we’re in between waves of fish and we saw good fishing at Neah Bay and Sekiu earlier this past week then it slowed down so one would think those fish should be making their way into Puget Sound anytime now,” Pyburn said
To top it off it’s not like everywhere is a ghost town. In fact, the moochers and trollers who worked hard managed to find some decent-sized hatchery kings up to 20-plus pounds along with a few hatchery coho off Point No Point and Pilot Point from Thursday through Sunday. The icing on the cake is the northeastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula is loaded with huge schools of herring baitfish.
With that said, it’ll only be a matter of time before places like Midchannel Bank, Fort Casey, Double Bluff to Bush Point off the southwest side of Whidbey Island, Possession Bar, Kingston, Richmond Beach, Jefferson Head, Yeomalt Point, West Point south of Shilshole, Point Monroe, Southworth and the northern tip of Vashon Island light up for kings.
“All the kings we’ve seen caught look healthy and are well fed, and the herring schools are so thick in Puget Sound clear out into the Strait,” Pyburn said. “The winter herring spawn in 2019 are producing these nice 2-inch herring right now. Our fish finder shows constant bait balls and we’re seeing lots of bird activity on the surface.”
“One day soon this will blow up like a bomb and we’ll see better fishing,” Pyburn noted. “You need to keep your gear in the water to catch fish and I think there’s a bunch of fish out there and they just haven’t rounded the corner into Puget Sound. It doesn’t take much and when you put one nice king in the boat it makes your day or week or even a season. Guys need to remember that once you walk away with an 18- to 20-pound fish you’ll have something to talk about for the rest of the year. Another good thing is if we had hot fishing right from the start, we’d be worried about chewing up the quota and we want to get as much time on the water as we can.”
Word has it the commercial trollers at Blue Dot about 24 miles offshore from Neah Bay were also scoring good numbers of kings and some exceeded the 30 pound mark.
The first wave of kings that streamed into Puget Sound in early July produced fairly good catches but has since petered out. Keep an eye on these locations too where it should ramp up very soon in the Tacoma area off the Clay Banks, the northern tip of Vashon Island, Brace Point and Southworth/Allen Bank area. NOTE: Area 11 is open for Dungeness crabbing Sundays and Mondays only.
Lastly, we can’t forget a possible brief opportunity for kings in Elliott Bay on July 31-Aug. 3 – dates are contingent on in-season test fishing – right in front of the Great Wheel and Space Needle!
Here are the WDFW chinook catch estimates:
The total legal-size encounter at Sekiu (Marine Catch Area 5) is 5,785 hatchery chinook of a catch guideline of 7,032 which puts the area at 82 percent and there’s a good chance the king fishery could end as soon as estimates predict the total encounter ceiling will be hit by July 24.
WDFW checks at Sekiu from July 1-5 showed 1,405 boats with 3,350 anglers kept 1,518 hatchery-marked chinook (plus 9 unmarked fish illegally kept) and released 1,275 hatchery-marked chinook and 2,099 unmarked chinook. July 6-12: 1,567 boats with 3,877 anglers kept 1,159 hatchery-marked chinook (plus 9 unmarked fish illegally kept) and released 973 hatchery-marked chinook and 1,601 unmarked chinook. July 13-16: 624 boats with 1,373 anglers kept 176 hatchery chinook and released 170 hatchery and 269 unmarked chinook.
San Juan Islands (Area 7) harvest estimate is 896, which is 57 percent of a catch quota of 1,562.
WDFW checks at San Juan Islands from July 1-5 showed 1,712 boats with 4,039 anglers kept 483 hatchery-marked chinook (plus 3 unmarked fish illegally kept) and released 488 hatchery-marked chinook and 205 unmarked chinook; also 5 unmarked coho kept. July 6-12: 1,856 boats with 4,024 anglers kept 410 hatchery-marked chinook and released 415 hatchery-marked chinook and 177 unmarked chinook; also 6 marked coho kept.
South central Puget Sound (Area 11) harvest estimate is 345, which is 8 percent of a catch quota of 4,196.
WDFW checks at south central Puget Sound from July 1-5 showed 1,220 boats with 2,159 anglers kept 135 hatchery-marked chinook and released 64 hatchery-marked chinook and 133 unmarked chinook; also 27 hatchery coho kept and 25 unmarked released plus 3 hatchery coho and 6 unknown released. July 6-12: 1,846 boats with 3,449 anglers kept 210 hatchery-marked chinook and released 100 hatchery-marked chinook and 207 unmarked chinook; also 15 hatchery and 4 unmarked coho kept and 6 hatchery and 4 unmarked coho released.
The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (Area 6) doesn’t have a catch quota or guideline so hatchery kings are fair game now through Aug. 15 although WDFW has a predicted catch estimate of 4,768 hatchery kings.
WDFW should have initial catch estimates for northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10) by the middle of this week. The Area 9 catch quota is 6,529 hatchery kings and Area 10 is 4,149.
Here are the latest WDFW coastal salmon checks:
Ilwaco – 3,874 anglers July 6-12 kept 217 chinook and 5,879 hatchery coho. Through July 12, 585 chinook (8% of the area guideline) and 7,761 coho (59% of the area sub-quota) have been kept.
Westport – 1,712 anglers July 6-12 kept 545 chinook and 633 hatchery coho. Through July 12, 766 chinook (6% of the area guideline) and 793 hatchery coho (8% of the area sub-quota) have been kept.
La Push – Port remains closed to public access; anglers can access via Westport and Sekiu. Through July 12, 16 chinook (1% of the area guideline) and 6 coho (1% of the area sub-quota) have been kept.
Neah Bay – Port remains closed to public access but anglers can access waters from Sekiu. 2,170 anglers July 6-12 kept 495 chinook and 853 hatchery coho. Through July 12, 1,247 chinook (22% of the area guideline) and 1,314 coho (48% of the area sub-quota) have been kept.
Baker Lake produces good sockeye catch on opener
Anglers found decent sockeye fishing when Baker Lake opened this past Saturday.
Fishing is allowed now through Sept. 7 with a two-sockeye daily limit, 18 inches or longer, and a two-pole endorsement. Everyone in a boat is allowed to fish until all anglers reach their two-fish daily limit.
Counts at the Baker River fish trap have been more 1,000 the past two days. Through July 15, 9,184 returned to fish trap with 3,720 transferred up to the lake. Daily counts were 1,092 on July 14 and 1,139 on July 15.