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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to catch trout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishing tips and advice

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

New “App” should boost information process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WDFW Derby begins April 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION THREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

Upcoming meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting dates to set the salmon fishing seasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

Salmon fisheries recap finds ups and downs, and a sneak peek look ahead to 2018

Gerald Chew of Mercer Island holds up a nice 25-plus pound chinook. Photo courtesy of Gerald Chew.

By Mark Yuasa

A look back at summer salmon fisheries showed a mash-up of surprises both good, bad and downright ugly.

Salmon catches along the coast this past summer in general were decent for chinook, but mainly somewhat a mixed bag of success for coho.

“At Neah Bay we saw a lot of chinook and I would classify it as a good year especially early and on through the third week of July, and then it started to tail off which is typical,” said Wendy Beeghly, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal salmon manager. “What we never saw at Neah Bay was coho.”

The week of July 3-9 at Neah Bay anglers averaged 0.90 fish per rod –

1,975 anglers took home 1,472 chinook and 245 hatchery coho. Then it jumped to 1.35 July 10-16 – 1,999 with 2,352 and 291 – and 1.07 July 17-23 – 1,698 with 1,156 and 570. Other good weeks were July 31-Aug. 6 with 1.35; Aug. 14-20 with 1.16; and Aug. 28-Sept. 3 with 1.19.

When the season started on June 24, LaPush was like a ghost town with terrible fishing and low angler effort. By mid-August it picked up steam averaging 1.31 to 1.57 per rod until it closed Sept. 4. Catches of hatchery coho fared better than chinook.

“At Westport and Ilwaco fishing was so good we ended up having to close both areas on Aug. 22,” Beeghly said. “That kind of surprised us, and coho catches in general were quite good. Chinook fishing started off slow early on at Ilwaco and then picked up, which in comparison was quite the opposite trend from the past five years.”

“At Westport they had slightly below average catches of chinook although coho fishing was quite good at times,” Beeghly said. “The effort there combined with the decent coho catches are why they ran out of fish pretty quick.”

Best weeks at Westport was 1.18 fish per rod on July 17-23; 1.16 on July 24-30; and 1.11 on July 31-Aug. 6. At Ilwaco (not including Buoy-10) the glory weeks on the ocean were 1.03 on July 17-23; 1.33 on July 24-30; and 1.09 on Aug. 7-13.

“The chinook off the coast looked healthy, and there wasn’t a lot of big ones – averaged 12 to 15 pounds – and the larger fish were in 20-pound range,” Beeghly said. “A surprise to me was the size of the coho, which looked very healthy and that was a good sign of them finding feed in the ocean.”

In the Columbia River, another summer and fall salmon fishing hot-bed, Joe Hymer, a WDFW biologist recently offered a summary of how action ended up.

The 3,516 adult-summer and 26,138 adult-fall chinook caught this year was the fourth and sixth highest respectively dating back to at least 1969. The record was more than 5,900 summer and 41,500 fall set in 2015.

Columbia River coho also waxed expectations with more than 3,100 adult fish kept this year, which is fourth highest since at least 1969.  The record was nearly 5,800 fish caught in 2014.

While catches were rosy, angler turnout was the lowest in nearly a decade. The 100,000 angler trips less than the recent 10-year average.

Another lowlight was the less than 1,700 summer steelhead kept this year, which is the lowest since complete fishing closures in the mid-1970s.

Shad were another highlight in the Columbia, and 169,795 shad kept in 2017 was the second highest since at least 1969 (record was 194,898 in 2013).

Summer salmon fisheries in Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca also saw a mixed bag of success.

“In a general summary I would say Puget Sound chinook returns were pretty solid with bright spots,” said Ryan Lothrop, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound recreational salmon manager. “For pinks and sockeye it was spotty although some local good opportunity occurred. We’re still grasping for a straw on what we saw this summer for coho returns in Puget Sound since we had to deal at length with the Atlantic salmon situation.”

Here is a rundown on how Lothrop viewed summer inner-marine waterway salmon fisheries.

At Sekiu (Marine Catch Area 5) it looks like sport anglers caught about 2,381 hatchery chinook, and it was definitely down compared to recent yearly averages.

“If I had to fathom a guess we came in about half or two-thirds less of what we planned for chinook harvest,” Lothrop said. “With no bonus in pinks that had some effect on effort out there, and they’ve had some sluggish chinook years. Sometimes it’s an early game, and sometimes it’s a late game for Sekiu. It was a little more later game for them this past summer. We still have no coho estimates, plus it was only open through Aug. 31. They were picking up smaller, but healthy coho at that time.”

In eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (6) the hatchery king fishing was solid when it opened on July 1, and that is consistent with what they’ve seen in previous years.

“We had catch rates of three-quarters of a chinook per angler right at the start and anytime you have half-a-fish per rod it is good fishing,” Lothrop said. “Then it looks like it had fallen off after mid-July.”

In San Juan Islands (7) there was a catch of 3,695 hatchery kings in July during the marked-selective season, which is a pretty decent number of fish.

“We’re still learning about that fishery, but we caught almost three times as many fish as we had anticipated,” Lothrop said. It was poor the year before when we came in less than half of expectation. In 2016, the mark rate was really low, and this past summer it was really high.”

By far, the highlight of the summer salmon fisheries occurred in northern Puget Sound (9) where a very good number of hatchery chinook were landed from Possession Bar to Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend. The fishery prematurely closed on July 30 (originally slated to remain open through Aug. 16).

“We caught 5,368 chinook, which we knew was a precursor with the fact it was a very strong mid-South Sound hatchery forecast,” Lothrop said. “The Area 9 catch quota was 3,056 (in 2016) so it was 1.8 times bigger or a little less than double for this past summer. It started off pretty hot, and always seems to do that.”

In central Puget Sound (10) the total summer catch was 2,193 hatchery chinook, and it stayed open during the entire selective season from July 16-Aug. 15. The catch quota in 2016 was 1,395, and there was a 50 percent increase this past summer.

“The central Puget Sound hatchery king fishery is usually a back loaded fishery, and it behaved like what you expected it to be,” Lothrop said. “We had a couple of really good days (Aug. 14-15) where anglers caught most of the fish. It was like 20 or 30 fish per day throughout the season, and then we got to 1,200 fish the last couple of days with pretty solid fishing.”

Anglers hadn’t had a chance to pursue kings in inner-Elliott Bay during the summer since 2006, and catches weren’t much to write home about with a total of 176 – 138 were marked fish and 38 were unmarked.

“Albeit it was just a get our feet wet kind of fishery, and we tried to pick the peak of the run to open the inner-bay (Aug. 11-13) or darn close to it,” Lothrop said. “I know it wasn’t that great of a catch rate, and this was a non-select fishery because of unmarked (hatchery) chinook program in the Green River.”

In south-central Puget Sound (11) the king fishing was a gradual uphill journey to success when it opened on June 1.

“Our data showed it was just a steady slow climb as the summer progressed with some gaps in between along with good moments too,” Lothrop said. “By early July it had some of the best catch rates in Puget Sound, and this isn’t necessarily that common. Then you often have to wait until August to see the better catches.”

Another shining light was southern Puget Sound (13), and Lothrop said you could find 40 or 50 boats consistently fishing and finding solid king action at Boston Harbor all summer long.

“Many South Sound locals avoided going to the ocean since this fishery was producing decent summer catches,” Lothrop said. “They were picking up 10 to 12 pounders early on. It was one of those rare summer events when fish showed up early and hung around for whatever reason. They were in constant feeding mode. Most were jigging or trolling, which seemed to work well, and it wasn’t a difficult fishery to figure out this past summer. To see those moments when it popped was refreshing for sure.”

Hood Canal (12) south of Ayock Point have seen some decent years lately, and those who fished it did fairly well.

“People aren’t really in tune with this one yet, and don’t have it on their radar,” Lothrop said. “But, when we’ve had seasons with forecasts of 400,000 and 200,000 chinook coming back they should get it on their radar.”

Chinook south of Ayock were good biters, and originated from the George Adams and Hoodsport hatcheries.

“Those hatchery programs are at or above forecast,” Lothrop said. “We took a little more conservative approach in developing the forecast, but in recent years they have come in very strong due in part to the production in those hatcheries. Hopefully that materializes for larger fish runs for next year too.”

Just north of Everett, the Tulalip terminal summer fishery was really good for chinook and coho, and in fact was through the roof for returns.

EARLY OUTLOOK FOR 2018

Painting a clear picture for 2018 salmon returns to Washington is still loaded with many unanswered questions although it appears we’ve gotten past dismal cycle.

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

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

Unusual numbers of pyrosomes (a tunicate usually found in subtropical waters and also known as “sea pickles”) have been observed up and down the coast. They do not have much nutritional value, and could be competing with marine fish species.

Litz said, after conducting ocean surveys this summer, NOAA issued a warning in the form of a memo that coho abundance may be low in 2018, and chinook abundance likely down in next two to three years after observing the lowest catches of juvenile salmon in the ocean in their 20-year time series.

Sockeye and pink returns were on average poorer than forecast throughout Puget Sound, but chum populations are doing better than forecast, and were 200 percent above the pre-season forecast. The updated run-size is 950,000 chum in Hood Canal and 800,000 in South Puget Sound. Commercial catches this fall were the highest state fisheries has seen in the past two decades. Sport anglers also benefitted from the higher returns.

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

The El Nino of 2015-2016 is officially over and we are in an ENSO neutral state, meaning that the equatorial Pacific does not have abnormally high or low SST anomalies (the signature of El Nino/La Nina), although there is a current watch in place for this winter and spring for La Nina to develop, according to Litz.

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

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

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

Mark Yuasa

Outdoor Line Blogger 710 ESPN Seattle

 

Trout fishing better than dealing with shopping mall crowds, and update on Sunday’s Tengu Derby

This batch of jumbo-sized rainbow trout were caught at Beaver Lake last week by Tom Quinn of Issaquah. Look for plenty of these to be swimming around and heading to the holiday dinner table in the weeks ahead!

While hordes of people will be hitting the shopping malls in the days to come, many others will opt out and head to a year-round lake to catch trout.

“It’s going to be an exciting time to go trout fishing (and) certainly a much more wholesome activity than going to the mall,” said Steve Thiesfeld, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) inland fish manager.

A few years ago, WDFW decided to give their trout planting a face-lift by adding fish into lakes open year-round after anglers requested more time on the water in the winter.

This year’s winter trout plants are down from previous years, but WDFW hatchery personnel began adding about 120,000 catchable-sized rainbow trout since early fall. This is also on top of spring fry plants where those fish are now growing into the “catchable” 8- to 15-inch range.

The “Black Friday” plants occurred last week with the bulk of fish going into southwestern Washington lakes as well as some in the Puget Sound region.

Those included Issaquah’s Beaver Lake in King County that was planted with 760 rainbow trout averaging 1 ½ pounds.

In Thurston County, Black Lake got 3,267; Long Lake received 1,002; and Offutt Lake got 1,006. In Pierce County, Tanwax Lake got 1,000.

In Pacific County, Cases Pond got 541 trout on Nov. 17.

Another plant of 5,000 trout will happen sometime next month at Goodwin Lake in Snohomish County.

In Pierce County, American Lake is expecting a plant of 2,500, and Tanwax another 1,000. These trout will average 1 to 1.3 pounds. In Jefferson County, Anderson will be planted with 1,200 this month.

Moving down to the southwestern region hit up lakes like Battleground, 2,000 and Klineline, 2,000 in Clark County; Kress, 2,000 in Cowlitz County; Rowland, 2,000 in Klickitat County; Fort Borst Park, 2,000 and South Lewis County Park, 2,000 in Lewis County.

In Chelan County, Roses Lake – a popular ice-fishing spot later in the winter – got a whopping 15,624 on Nov. 20, and Sidley Lake in Okanogan County another ice-fishing locale got 3,000 on Nov. 7.

Fourth of July and Hatch lakes each received decent trout fry plants in 2016, and look for these trout to be in the catchable-size range this winter. Some Fourth of July trout are known to tape out at 20-plus inches, and is often iced over by early winter.

Lake Roosevelt above Grand Coulee Dam –a massive 130-mile reservoir – is another winter-time sleeper that is often overlooked. A net program generates 750,000 trout fry annually, and survival rate is superb with ample feed to help these trout grow fast.

For a comprehensive list of stocked lakes, go to WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/fall-into-fishing/. Weekly stocking reports can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.

Tengu Blackmouth Derby has new season leader

Here are the Tengu Blackmouth Derby results in Elliott Bay from Sunday that showed 15 members caught three blackmouth.

The weekly winner and now the largest fish of the season after three Sundays is Guy Mamiya who caught a 9 pound, 15 ounce hatchery chinook off Salty’s Restaurant late in the morning.

Guy Mamiya holds up the largest hatchery chinook caught in the Tengu Blackmouth Derby so far this season. The derby is held every Sunday through Dec. 31.

Second place was Justin Wong with a 5-12 caught off the Elliott Bay Marina; and third went to John Mirante with a 4-10 he caught off the west waterway.

“We ran into some bait and a lot of shakers off Red Stack all morning,” said Doug Hanada, Tengu Derby president. “My nephew caught a 20-inch, 21-inch and a 21.5-inch blackmouth there. (we) used up about

eight dozen bait for three of us. No action or markings off Duwamish Head.”

The long-standing Tengu Blackmouth Derby started on Nov. 5 and Nov. 13 (Nov. 19 was cancelled due to rough weather), and is hosted every Sunday through Dec. 31.

The derby began in 1937, and up until 2015 was held every season since the end of World War II. Last season just nine legal-size chinook were caught during the entire derby.

In the derby, only mooching (fishing using a banana-style lead weight to a leader with a herring) is allowed. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. This winter the boundary has been extended to West Point.

Cost is $35 to join the club, and $5 for children 12-years-old-and-under. The derby starts at daybreak and ends each day at 11 a.m. The Seacrest Boathouse will be open at 6 a.m. every Sunday. Cost for rental boat from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. is $65, and $85 for boat and motor. Tickets are available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle.

Keep clam and dig up some razor clams

For those who like to dig into some fun be sure to take advantage of the next round of coastal razor clam digs, which have been approved for Dec. 1-4.

Digging will be open Dec. 1 at Copalis (minus-0.3 feet at 4:42 p.m.); Dec. 2 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.1 at 5:29 p.m.); Dec. 3 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis (-1.6 at 6:15 p.m.); Dec. 4 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.8 at 7:02 p.m.); and Dec. 31 Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks (-1.2 at 5:12 p.m.).

Diggers will find a mixed bag of razor clam sizes – diggers must keep the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition – and the key is if you’re finding small ones in a certain area of the beach don’t be afraid to move to another spot, according to Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

Despite the a mixed bag it looks like razor clam diggers are finding oodles of clams on coastal beaches.

“The most recent digs (Nov. 2-5) went well, and we had 27,770 digger trips with 366,484 clams dug,” Ayres said. “That comes out to 13.2 clams per person.”

A breakdown by beaches showed Twin Harbors had 5,268 diggers Nov. 3-5 with 73,215 clams for an average of 13.9 clams per person; Copalis had 4,904 with 52,541 Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 for 10.7; Mocrocks had 3m229 with 47,354 Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 for 14.7; and Long Beach had 14,371 with 193,373 Nov. 3-5 for 13.5.

“The crowds were lighter than we had projected and I’m sure the weather forecast scared away some from turning out,” Ayres said. “The exception was Long Beach, which had more than expected, and the folks did quite well. Down the road we might need to back off at Long Beach, but the other beaches were fine.”

After just two series of digs, Long Beach has harvested 36 percent of the total allowable catch for the entire season.

Another dig is planned on Dec. 31, and more digs for January and February will be announced very soon.

Ayres pointed out they’re not seeing any issues with marine toxins like domoic acid, and are likely past the sensitive time of the year.

“We will go ahead with next digs planned in December, and then reassess to make sure we have enough clams for digs after the New Year and in spring,” Ayres said.

Diggers should check for updates on next digs by going to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

 

 

Recent salmon closures may be a downer, but other fun options around heading into Thanksgiving and beyond

Robbie Tobeck with a nice hatchery chinook he caught while fishing with Tom Nelson before the Area 9 fishery closed.

The marine chinook salmon fisheries this month have come to a screeching halt, after state Fish and Wildlife determined the sub-legal encounter rate was alarmingly high.

Salmon fishing is now closed as of Nov. 13 until further notice in Marine Catch Areas 8-1, 8-2 and 9 (northern Puget Sound and entire eastside of Whidbey Island).

“Everyone wants to be cautious from what we’re seeing right now in Areas 9 and 10 (northern and central Puget Sound),” said Ryan Lothrop, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound recreation salmon manager. “The sub-legal chinook (fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit) encounter rate hampered our winter fisheries in the past, and it looks like we’re seeing the same scenario this month.”

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a bad situation,” Lothrop said. “When we started test fishing a week prior to opening (on Nov. 1) we knew it wasn’t going to be very good. Then we started getting reports from Areas 8-1 and 8-2 that they were seeing similar things as in Area 9. In the past three years we haven’t been able to run a full fishery in 9 in November.”

From Nov. 1-5, 495 boats with 889 anglers in Area 9 kept 240 legal-size chinook and released 1,137 sub-legals for a total encounter rate of 1,377 fish. The guideline for encounters is 11,053 fish putting the fishery already at a staggering 88 percent for sub-legals and 12 percent at legal-size fish.

From Nov. 1-5, 98 boats with 172 anglers in Area 8-1 kept 52 legal-size hatchery chinook (plus five unmarked wild fish kept) and released 67 sub-legal size hatchery chinook for a total encounter rate of 124 fish. In Area 8-2, 165 boats with 315 anglers kept 50 legal-size hatchery chinook and released 65 sub-legal size hatchery chinook for 115. The guideline for encounters in both areas is 5,492 fish putting the fishery already at a staggering 88 percent for sub-legals and 12 percent at legal-size fish.

From Nov. 1-5, 73 boats with 162 anglers in Area 10 kept eight legal-size chinook and released 10 sub-legals for a total encounter rate of 18 fish. The guideline for encounters is 5,349 fish putting the fishery at 73 percent for sub-legals and 9 percent at legal-size fish.

“In 2015, we had a lot of sub-legals in fisheries, and right now we don’t want to impact our winter fisheries for those happening later on,” Lothrop said. “Most agree that we wait until these fish grow larger, and have a more predictable opportunity.”

The feedback state fisheries got from anglers and their sport-fishing advisory group is to pause for now, and keep the fishery open after the New Year when Area 9 reopens on Jan. 16.

In winter of 2015, state fisheries made some decisions that weren’t too appealing to anglers who found themselves seeing seasons opening and then facing emergency closures soon after.

“At least moving forward we’re ahead of the curve right now, and a stronger forecast this season has allowed us to have a better catch guideline,” Lothrop said. “It gave us more wiggle room, but no one wants it to get out of hand. Nobody wants to handle 10 to 12 sub-legal chinook to catch and keep one legal.”

For those with a hankering to wet a line you still have central Puget Sound (Area 10), south-central Puget Sound (11), Hood Canal (12) and southern Puget Sound (13), which are still open for salmon. Anglers will also be able to ring in the New Year when  the San Juan Islands will reopen on Jan. 1.

Dungeness crab can be caught via boat in many open marine areas, but wading for them is another popular way to catch them too! Here Brent Tsang of Mercer Island shows off one he caught at night off Whidbey Island.

Winter Dungeness crab fishing remains open daily in some marine areas, and look for them around Whidbey Island, northeast side of Kitsap Peninsula, Camano Island, Hat Island, Port Angeles Harbor, Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands. Remember due to a downtrend in crab abundance locations south of Edmonds and Hood Canal – Marine Catch Areas 10, 11, 12 and 13 are closed this winter.

The scoop on recent salmon derbies

There was also three major salmon derbies, which included the Everett No-Coho Blackmouth Derby on Nov. 4-5 that drew 499 anglers who caught 109 chinook averaging 6.22 pounds (146 last year averged 6.55 pounds). Of those about 70 percent of the fish were caught on Saturday due to the lousy weather conditions on Sunday.

The winner was Adam Burke who caught an 11.89 chinook who took home a check for $4,000. Second place went to Timothy Quinn of Camano Island with an 11.24-pounder, and earned a check for $2,500.

In third was Lilaine Leonardo of Bothell with a 10.93 chinook worth $1,000, and just edged out Troy Moe of Lake Stevens who took fourth place with a 10.90 pound chinook woth $500.

In the youth division, Alex Davis caught the largest chinook that weighed 9.29-pounds. The team division the winners were Big Kahuna— Derek Floyd, Lance Husby, Troy Moe and Scot Bumstead —  with an average weight of 8.52 pounds.

The winner of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series grand prize $85,000 fully-loaded Hewescraft boat with Honda motors went to Gary March of Worley, Idaho who fished earlier this summer in the The Big One Salmon Derby on Lake Coeur d’Alene. More than 4,000 anglers were entered into the 14 derbies held in 2017.

The Jacobsen’s Blackmouth Derby was held on Nov. 5, and despite the lousy weather they had 17 boats with 38 anglers out of Edmonds who braved the elements and caught three chinook.

Winner was John Laws of Lynnwood with a 6 pound-1 ounce chinook that warned him a Garmin 740 GPS Depthsounder. Second was Steve Klein of Everett with a 4.09 pound chinook and took home a Yeti Cooler; and third was Louie Yuhm with 3.13 pound chinook that pegged him a $500 gift certificate.

The long-standing Tengu Blackmouth Derby started on Nov. 5, and 13 anglers faced rough seas with no keepers, but lots of shakers and baitfish in Elliott Bay!

The derby began in 1937, and up until 2015 was held every season since the end of World War II. Last season just nine legal-size chinook were caught during the entire derby.

In the derby, only mooching (fishing using a banana-style lead weight to a leader with a herring) is allowed. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. This winter the boundary has been extended to West Point.

The derby is held every Sunday through Dec. 31. Cost is $35 to join the club, and $5 for children 12-years-old-and-under. The derby starts at daybreak and ends each day at 11 a.m. The Seacrest Boathouse will be open at 6 a.m. every Sunday. Cost for rental boat from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. is $65, and $85 for boat and motor. Tickets are available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle.

Loading up on razor clams

Those who trekked out to the coast for the most recent razor clams found success very appealing.

“The most recent digs went well, and we had 27,770 digger trips with 366,484 clams dug,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. “That comes out to 13.2 clams per person (the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition is a daily limit).”

Diggers search for razor clams as the sun drops over the weatern horizon off Moclips Beach.

The fact that the weather was crummy, wet and cold, Ayres says the ocean conditions weren’t too bad.

“The guys sent me a picture of perfect digging conditions (on Nov. 3), and then diggers struggled a bit on (Nov. 4), and then (Nov. 5) was good overall on all beaches,” Ayres said.

A breakdown by beaches showed Twin Harbors had 5,268 diggers Nov. 3-5 with 73,215 clams for an average of 13.9 clams per person; Copalis had 4,904 with 52,541 Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 for 10.7; Mocrocks had 3m229 with 47,354 Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 for 14.7; and Long Beach had 14,371 with 193,373 Nov. 3-5 for 13.5.

“The crowds were lighter than we had projected and I’m sure the weather forecast scared away some from turning out,” Ayres said. “The exception was Long Beach, which had more than expected, and the folks did quite well. Down the road we might need to back off at Long Beach, but the other beaches were fine.”

After just two series of digs, Long Beach has harvested 36 percent of the total allowable catch for the entire season.

Clam size was nice at Twin Harbors and Long Beach, but Copalis and Mocrocks had smaller size clams.

“You had to shop around to find the bigger clams at those two beaches,” Ayres said. “That means if you started to find smaller clams it might be wise to move around and look for the bigger ones.  The good news about the abundant smaller clams is that they will get bigger later in the season. On the other end we aren’t seeing the density of smaller clams at Twin Harbors and Long Beach, and so we’ll need to be careful on how we are harvesting on those beaches moving forward.”

Ayres pointed out they’re not seeing any issues with marine toxins lik domoic acid, and are likely past the sensitive time of the year.

“We will go ahead with next digs planned in December, and then reassess to make sure we have enough clams for digs after the New Year and in spring,” Ayres said.

Pending additional testing for marine toxins the next tentative dates are Dec. 1 at Copalis (-0.3 feet at 4:42 p.m.); Dec. 2 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.1 at 5:29 p.m.); Dec. 3 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis (-1.6 at 6:15 p.m.); Dec. 4 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.8 at 7:02 p.m.); and Dec. 31 Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks (-1.2 at 5:12 p.m.).

Opt for trout instead of shopping on Black Friday

Why go holiday shopping when you can reel-in a nice batch of trout the day after Thanksgiving.

Anglers need to be aware that many of the lakes will be closed to fishing the Monday before Thanksgiving until Thanksgiving Day to get the fish planted.

Locally, Beaver Lake – measuring out at 60.3 acres – located in Issaquah is getting a plant of 2,400 jumbo-sized trout, and was already planted with 800 in October.

The next batch of 800 trout was expected to get another plant on Monday before Thanksgiving and another 800 fish just prior to Christmas.

The daily catch limit at Beaver will be five trout, and only two fish may be longer than 15 inches. Fishing is open year-round. Internal combustion boat engines are prohibited.

In Pierce County, American Lake will get 2,500 on Nov. 20; and Tanwax Lake another 1,000 on Nov. 20. In Thurston County, Black Lake is getting 3,000; Long Lake will receive 1,000 on Nov. 20; and Offutt Lake, 1,000 on Nov. 20.

In southwest Washington, seven lakes planted on Nov. 20 will also provide some bliss for anglers next week.

In Clark County: Battle Ground Lake, 2,000; Klineline Pond, 2,000. In Cowlitz County: Kress Lake, 2,000. In Lewis County: Fort Borst Park Pond, 2,000; and South Lewis County Park Pond, 2,000. In Klickitat County: Rowland Lake, 2,000.

 

Chum forecast likely to exceed one-million plus, which means great fishing in weeks ahead

The good news for salmon anglers is two-fold as the chinook fishery reopens in some local marine areas, but the bigger news is what appears to be an extremely strong chum return.

“It appears we’re at the beginning of a stronger than forecasted chum run for Hood Canal and South Sound,” said Marisa Litz, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) chum salmon biologist.

Sport anglers at Hoodsport in Hood Canal saw some good catches of chum this past weekend where 38 anglers on Oct. 21 had 25 chum, and 26 on Oct. 22 had 19.

Likewise catches from commercial boats in central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal were scoring good catches too.

“We had our initial (purse seine and gill-net) openings last week and this week, and based on our (catch per unit effort) they’re among the largest we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Litz said.

Early boat ticket reports showed some as high as 4,000 chum per commercial boat on Oct. 18, and it appears they remained steady this past week.

“We had several purse seiners in Hood Canal and South Sound filling up their holds, and catching a lot of good quality bright chum,” Litz said. “Of course, it is still too early, and we haven’t changed any of our preseason run-size forecasts just yet.”

The total fall chum return is 1,070,968, and a breakdown of that figure shows 492,892 for Hood Canal and 291,357 for South Sound rivers and streams.

Other fall chum forecasts are 109,337 for Nooksack/Samish; 6,966 for Skagit; 5,981 for Stillaguamish; 20,53 for Snohomish; 141,893 for central Puget Sound; and 2,061 for Strait of Juan de Fuca. Many rivers are closed to all salmon fishing to protect weak returning stocks. Check the WDFW pamphlet for what is open and/or closed to fishing.

“This is still the early stage of chum returns, but all indications show we’re going to exceed that based on the catches the last few weeks,” Litz said. “We’ve had pretty atrocious returns of pinks, and issues with chinook and coho so to see this chum return likely exceeding expectations is great news.”

WDFW and tribal fishery managers are assessing chum forecasts, and will likely start having conversations to consider increasing the run-size very soon, which could be as soon as this week.

Chum salmon – better known as dog salmon for their ferocious-looking jawline at spawning time – are also one of the hardest-fighting fish a sport angler will hook, and they can weigh up to and over 20 pounds with most averaging 8 to 15 pounds.

Anglers pursuing chums will have plenty of opportunities along some of the more traditional fishing holes, which will give up decent action in the weeks ahead with the peak usually occurring around Thanksgiving.

Popular locales are the estuaries off Kennedy Creek in Totten Inlet, Perry Creek in Eld Inlet, Johns Creek and Canyon Creek in Oakland Bay, Chico Creek estuary in Dyes Inlet and Curly Creek estuary near Southworth.

Other good places to try for chum are North Bay near Allyn, Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, McLane Creek, Eagle Creek south of Potlatch State Park, and the public-access shores off Highway 101 from Eldon to Hoodsport.

The heavy rain in past couple of weeks has pushed a lot of the early chums toward estuaries where they’ll stage before up into rivers and streams.

A bobber and anchovy or small firecracker-sized herring is the most productive way to catch fish, but tossing flies, spinners, jigs and spoons will also catch their fair share of fish. In this fishery many believe the color chartreuse is the “must have” color in your tackle gear to catch chums.

The strong abundance of chum also bodes well when northern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) reopens for blackmouth on Wednesday (Nov. 1). Anglers at places like Possession Bar and Double Bluff off the south side of Whidbey Island, Point No Point, Kingston, Pilot Point and Port Townsend should find their decent share of fish to catch.

In the meantime, for those who just can’t wait until the opener can get a jump start right now for chum and/or other salmon species in south-central and southern Puget Sound and Hood Canal. Central Puget Sound is also currently open for hatchery coho only. Many of these areas restrictions change on Wednesday (Nov. 1) so be sure to check the WDFW pamphlet for what types of salmon you can or cannot keep.

One of toughest salmon derbies begins soon

Once the free-for-all on winter hatchery-marked chinook gets underway on many marine areas, be sure to put down the 72nd annual Tengu Blackmouth Derby in Elliott Bay on your calendar starting this Sunday (Nov. 5) and will be held every Sunday through Dec. 31.

The derby began in 1937, and up until 2015 was held every season since the end of World War II.

Last season just nine legal-size chinook were caught during the entire derby. The largest fish was caught by Benny Wong of Seattle, and weighed 10 pounds-1 ounce. Coincidentally Wong caught the most fish for the entire season with three hatchery chinook.

A breakdown revealed three legal-sized hatchery chinook caught on Nov. 6; one fish (the season winner) on Nov. 13; one fish on Nov. 20; one fish on Nov. 27; one fish on Dec. 4; two on Dec. 11; and none on Dec. 18.

In the derby, only mooching (fishing using a banana-style lead weight to a leader with a herring) is allowed. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. This winter the boundary has been extended to West Point.

Cost is $35 to join the club, and $5 for children 12-years-old-and-under. The derby starts at daybreak and ends each day at 11 a.m. The Seacrest Boathouse will be open at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, and then 6 a.m. every Sunday after that. Cost for rental boat from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. is $65, and $85 for boat and motor. Tickets will be available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle.

Word on squid jigging

That moves us into squid jigging and this weather outside is the perfect setting although it has been good for weeks now and I’m still hearing that places like the Seacrest Pier and along the Seattle waterfront are the go to spots. Most aren’t big like 4 to 5 inches.

High tide like tonight is a plus-10.6 feet at 6:11 p.m. so I’d be there on the pier hitting it hard from 4 p.m. and the few hours after the tide change. It is going to get progressively later as the week goes on into Thursday Oct. 27 before it switches back around. I’d also hit the Shilshole boat launch pier and A-Dock at Shilshole Marina as well as Edmonds, Kingston piers, on the west side try Waterman and Illahee piers, and down south try Des Moines, Les Davis, Dash Point and Redondo piers.

Chum are for stream watchers too

For those who don’t fish or just want to see all the chum moving into rivers and streams should take advantage of the action.

Kennedy Creek in Totten Inlet offers by far the best sights of chum in spawning action. The creek is located off Highway 101, and is a small low-land stream that flows into southern Puget Sound. It is one of the most productive chum salmon production streams in the state. Chum begin appearing between mid-October and mid-December, and best viewing time is during the month of November. The Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail provides a unique opportunity, and was created by the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group. There are easy access areas, multiple fish viewing platforms, interpretive signs and on-sight trail guides.

Chico Creek Salmon Park is located just above the culvert under Kitsap Golf Club Hill Road off Chico Way in Dyes Inlet. You can also see the fish on the bridge near the 19th Hole Tavern on Erland Point Road, and an access point at the end of Kittyhawk Drive.

Closer to Seattle, Piper’s Creek at Carkeek Park is a tiny watershed that offers good viewing of returning chum. The best viewing time is primarily from mid-November through mid-December, and peaks around first week of December. In late November there is often a free event called Carkeek’s Annual Salmon Celebration. For details, call 206-684-5999.

 

Squid jigging fun is a late-night fall and winter affair off Puget Sound piers

Jigging for squid in Puget Sound is often deemed a nocturnal fishing affair as the best action usually occurs in the middle of the night when the majority of people are sound asleep.

Those willing to take on this late-night fishery will reap the rewards by having piles of tasty deep- or pan-fried calamari for the dinner table, and the sheer fun and camaraderie of hooking up with oodles of these slimy creatures.

Don’t expect solitude when pursuing them as hundreds of others with fishing poles, colorful jigs and a high-powered portable lamp to light up the water below have been crowding piers along the Seattle waterfront, and from Edmonds south to Tacoma and across the sound at Bremerton since right after Labor Day when word got out the fishing had started to ramp up.

From late summer through the heart of winter-time, millions of squid return to Puget Sound, and gorge on small baitfish and crustaceans as they prepare to spawn.

While the best squid jigging usually occurs from late November to February it isn’t uncommon to catch them right now when the weather is much more tolerable, and packing along all the heavy clothing isn’t necessary.

“Squid jigging has been very off the Edmonds Pier and all the way down to the Tacoma-Narrows area,” said Mike Chamberlain, owner of Ted’s Sports Center in Lynnwood. “The good news is that you don’t have the bundle up like an Eskimo at this time of the season. The squid right now are the smaller summer type in the 4- to 5-inch range, and we should start to see some bigger ones soon.”

Chamberlain says he’s been selling plenty of jigs to customers in recent weeks as word has leaked out that jigging for squid is off the a decent early start, and should stay this way well into the winter.

Sorry, but you won’t find any of the mythical ship-wrecking types of “kraken” squid in our area nor the more popular giant Humboldt squid that travel the western coastal waters, and are known grow to 8 feet in length and weigh in excess of 100 pounds.

Squid in our neck-of-the-woods – to be more precise in Puget Sound marine waterways – are called Pacific squid or “market squid” and their average size is 5 to 12 inches.

Squid swim freely in huge schools, and have a very short lifespan of about 12 to 18 months.

For reasons not known, squid feed mainly at night and are attracted to light, but tend to hide in the shadows of darkness only darting out into the light to pursue their prey.

Since they tend to hang around the shorelines off public piers, catching them is pretty accessible and one doesn’t need expensive fishing gear.

Just about any fishing rod will work, but many prefer lighter more sensitive long-length type rod with a trout-like spinning reel. Use light weighted line of 5 to 6 pound test so you can feel the light tap or vibration of an attacking squid(s).

A weighted luminous plastic jig comes in a wide range of colors ranging in red, chartreuse, pink, blue, green, orange or nor no-color at all. Jigs don’t have “hooks” are each comes with an upward slanting sharp prongs.

Some use an unweighted lure attached to a one-ounce lead weight allowing them to be dropped down to the desired depth. Many anglers will also attach multiple jigs to the main-line, but regulations say no more than four lures may be used at one time.

Squid won’t actually bite the jig, but will wrap themselves onto the jig’s pin-like ends so keep steady upward pressure will keep them hanging on, and don’t give a squid any slack otherwise they’ll let go.

Anglers will raise the rod tip up to about 10 o’clock and then slowly lower the jig back down to make it resemble an injured fish.

Squid tend to school  just below the water’s surface to about 20 to 25 feet down, but it’s good to work you lure from top to bottom in the water column to find them.

Prime time to catch squid is during or right at high tide. While they often feed in darkness in the middle of the night, often times they’ll stay on the hunt into the early-morning hours just before daylight.

The most popular places to catch them are along the Seattle waterfront at Piers 57, 62, 63, 69, 70 or the Seattle Aquarium Pier.

The best Seattle location in past squid seasons has been Pier 86, but was closed this past summer until further notice due safety concerns. The Port of Seattle and state Fish and Wildlife are trying to determine the fate of the pier, since repairs to fix the cracked piers as well as failing electrical and water systems will be costly.

Other ideal locations are the Seacrest Boathouse Pier in West Seattle; Edmonds Pier; Des Moines Pier; Redondo Pier; A-Dock and Shilshole Pier; Point Defiance Park Pier; Les Davis Pier in Tacoma; Fauntleroy Ferry Dock; Illahee State Park Pier; and the Waterman and Indianola piers in Kitsap County.

A daily limit is 10 pounds or 5 quarts, and each angler must keep their catch in separate containers. A forage fish dip-net or hand dip net may be used; there is no minimum size limit for squid; and a state shellfish license is required for ages 15 to 69, and 70 and older will need a senior shellfish license.

State Fish and Wildlife has information on squid jigging at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/squid/.