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

 

MONTANA!

Living in western Washington, you get used to being around people. Lots of people… That’s not a good thing if you’re a rifle hunter,.. bust your butt to get to the ridge top only to find more souls in blaze orange than you do game animals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state but every now and then, it’s good to get out and experience some elbow room. When you consider that Montana’s 140,000 square miles is over twice the land area of Washington, there’s less people in the entire state than there is in greater Seattle, elbow room and plentiful game is what you can expect and on this trip we were far from dissapointed!

One of the biggest hurdles in planning an out-of-state hunt is getting a grasp of exactly where the public land is located and if private land access is your aim, who owns the land? In both these aspects onX maps is a definite asset.

Available as a chip in your GPS or an ap on your phone or tablet, topo, satellite and ownership information layers allow you to dial in the desired information!

Once we got boots on the ground we spent a bunch of time glassing and the right set of binoculars is nothing short of vital! I’m so much more than impressed with the Vortex Viper XD 10×42’s. Very compact, lightweight quality optics that virtually eliminate eye strain, there were times that I was barely aware that I was looking through binos!

Without the bright, crisp clarity that Vortex provides, I may have glossed right over this buck in the brush!

It’s been a number of years (nevermind HOW MANY) since I took a muley buck of this quality and I’ll never be able to express my gratitude to my partner Rob Endsley for bringing me along on this wonderful hunt!

I’m absolutely blown away with the accuracy, performance and downrange punch of the Hornady Superformance 180gr GMX. The round was simply perfect for the job. Quick and clean.

Jim Heins aka “Bucket” was next to fill his tag and his fine buck was with another…

…and Robbo was on the “other buck’s” track… It wasn’t long before I was behind the camera and we’ve got three tags filled!

Having the bucks loaded up in the Can-Am Defender Max sure beats having to bone them up and pack ’em out! The heater in the cab of this six-seater was a very welcome comfort as well!

Once we tagged out, the next day it was time to chase some pheasants and Robbo was the first to hop off his Can-Am Outlander and swap the rifle for the shotgun!

After a season of stomping around western Washington pheasant release sites this fall, the look and tail length of Kirk Hawley’s wild rooster is simply amazing. 

Montana is not a far as you think and there’s no time like right now to start looking into an out-of-state hunt. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a very user-friendly site that will get you started on the right foot, providing you with planning tools such as: maps, regulations, seasons and application deadlines.

For the western Washington hunter in particular, Montana is the closest of the seven western states and offers deer and elk opportunities that Washingtonians can only dream about. When you’re ready, Montana awaits!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

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/.

 

First coastal razor clam digs of fall season begin Friday, and expect a mixed bag of sizes

Four coastal beaches opening this Friday and Saturday for first digs of 2017-18 season.

Coastal razor clam lovers have go ahead to proceed on four coastal beaches this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 6-7) for the first digs of the 2017-18 season.

“Our summer assessments showed the amount of clams in general is down this coming season, but depending on the beaches it should be good,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager. “The latest toxin testing show clams are safe to eat so we can proceed as planned. The test at Twin Harbors was at 10 parts per million (cutoff is 20 ppm), and all the rest of the beaches were single digits.”

Digging will be allowed Friday (a minus-0.4 feet low tide at 7:49 p.m.) and Saturday (-0.7 at 8:33 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Digging is usually best about an hour or two leading up to the low tide change, which means some of the digging period will occur during daylight hours if the skies are clear.

Ayres noted that marine toxin samplers found plenty of clams on beaches north of Grays Harbor especially at places like Mocrocks, and the majority are small, little guys measuring about 3 ½ inches. As is the case when the season opens in autumn those smaller clams are growing into the fishery, and will get bigger in time for the spring digs.

Sunsets can be dramatic during fall and winter evening low tides, and razor clam digging off coast should be decent. Photo by Mark Yuasa.

“The stock assessment gives us numbers, but it doesn’t give an overall sense of what is there,” Ayres said. “We didn’t have any problem getting clams during our assessments in particular at Mocrocks and Copalis.”

The news might not be so rosy for those heading to the southern coast where places like Long Beach lost of lot of clams. The likely downfall was sparse feed and nutrients, and the lower than normal salinity levels due to all the freshwater runoff in the Columbia River this summer. The clams leftover last spring were not fat clams at Long Beach so they also might be on the slimmer size.

Twin Harbors also saw a decline in the clam population, but to a slightly lesser degree.

Daily limit is the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition, and diggers must keep the first clams they dig, which means no high-grading. Each digger’s clams must be kept in separate containers.

During the upcoming season there will be a group of researchers from the University of Maryland interviewing recreational razor clam harvesters.

A federal grant by the school will have volunteers out on beaches seeking volunteers to conduct a paid interview for a survey on razor clam consumption and harvesting practices.

“Lynn Grattan, PHD MD researcher for the University of Maryland did a seven-year long-term study on tribal people who eat a lot of razor clams and is seeking answers to questions about people who consume more than 15 clams per month,” Ayres said.

While diggers don’t eat that many clams in a month, the Department of Health has a warning on their website at https://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Shellfish/RecreationalShellfish/Illnesses/Biotoxins/DomoicAcidinRazorClams.

“Part of this study is to determine the effect on people that could lead to long-term memory loss if they consume more than 15 clams a month even with small amounts of domoic acid,” Ayres said. “We don’t want to scare people, and in fact I’ve consumed more than 15 in a month, but in general most of us don’t so the likelihood of any ill effects is very minimal.”

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

Dates have been set through Dec. 31, and as mentioned above each series hinges on marine toxin testing before opening.

A batch of razor clams await to be cleaned after a successful outing at Copalis Beach last winter.

Other dates planned are:

Nov. 2 (0.1 at 6:03 p.m.) at Copalis; Nov. 3 (-0.7 at 6:47 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Nov. 4 (-1.2 at 7:31 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; and Nov. 5 (-1.4 at 7:16 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.

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

For more information, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

Oregon opens northern beach for razor clam harvest

Just across the Columbia River on the Oregon side, Clatsop County beaches reopened this past Sunday after being closed since July of 2016, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported.

The closure was necessary due to elevated levels of marine toxins and a closure to protect newly set young clams from July 15 through Sept. 30 that occurs yearly.

Other Oregon beaches have remained open for razor clam digging, but Clatsop County beaches are the most popular spot and make up 90 percent of state’s harvest.

During the summer of 2016, diggers found a bounty of clams during a record year with the majority of diggers attaining their 15-clam daily limit.

Tegan Yuasa (left) and Taylan Yuasa (right) try their luck for razor clams last winter at Copalis Beach.

When the beaches reopen it is likely that diggers will find a different scenario since surveys found abundance levels significantly lower since surveys began in 2004.

“In 2016, abundance peaked and surveys estimated 16 million razor clams in the 18-mile stretch between the Columbia River south jetty and Tillamook Head,” Matt Hunter, the ODFW’s Lead Shellfish Manager said in a news release. “This year, the estimate is just 3 million clams in that area.”

“These low numbers are troubling, as they mean Clatsop beaches haven’t seen a significant recruitment event for two years,” Hunter said.  “But this recruitment issue is not isolated to just Clatsop beaches. It’s being seen on the entire Oregon coast and for Washington beaches, too.”

Despite total numbers being down, diggers will find larger-sized clams averaging about 4 ½ inches with only a few clams smaller than 4-inches. Surveys showed clams distributed sporadically along the entire stretch of the beach.

“While razor clam numbers are lower this year, clams are quite large,” Hunter said. “To be successful, clammers should be diligent, choose the best low tides and actively ‘pound’ to get razors to show.”

The daily limit is the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition, and sorting or releasing clams isn’t allowed.

Before heading to an Oregon diggers should call 800-448-2474 or go to http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx.

 

Upcoming razor clam digs Oct. 6-7 on hold with more marine toxin testing necessary

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

By Mark Yuasa

Those making plans to hit the coast for razor clams Oct. 6-7 will have to hit the pause button until early next week when a final, final decision will come to light.

“I did have a conference call with state health (on Wednesday morning), and they have some concerns based on most recent test results and also data coming from (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for harmful algae blooms offshore,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

Ayres said state health has requested them to take another sample of clams from the four beaches this coming Monday (Oct. 2), and then get word out by late Tuesday on those results and if they can proceed with the digs.

The latest toxin testing this past Monday showed marine toxin levels for domoic acid were still below the cutoff threshold.

Once cleared the digs are Oct. 6 (a minus-0.4 feet low tide at 7:49 p.m.) and Oct. 7 (-0.7 at 8:33 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

On the positive side, Ayres noted his samplers found clams all over two northern beaches especially Mocrocks although there are small, little guys mixed in. Some of those smaller clams are growing into the fishery, and will get bigger in time for the spring digs.

“The (summer) stock assessment gives us numbers (which appeared down from past years), but it doesn’t give an overall sense of what is there,” Ayres said. “We didn’t have any problem getting clams during our assessments in particular at Mocrocks and Copalis.”

The news might not be so rosy for those heading to the southern coast where places like Long Beach lost of lot of clams where feed was sparse and the salinity level dropped due to all the freshwater runoff in the Columbia River. The clams leftover were not fat clams at Long Beach in the spring so they also might be on the slimmer size.

Ichiro Nakata of Mercer Island likes what he found in the sand during a night time dig at Copalis Beach.

Twin Harbors also saw a decline in the clam population, but to a slightly lesser degree.

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

Dates have been set through Dec. 31, and as mentioned above each series hinges on marine toxin testing before opening.

Other dates planned are:

Nov. 2 (0.1 at 6:03 p.m.) at Copalis; Nov. 3 (-0.7 at 6:47 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Nov. 4 (-1.2 at 7:31 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; and Nov. 5 (-1.4 at 7:16 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.

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

For more information, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

A batch of razor clams await to be cleaned after a successful outing at Copalis Beach last winter.

Oregon reopens for razor clams

If you want to get a head start, just cross the Columbia River to Oregon’s Clatsop County beaches, which reopens this Sunday (Oct. 1) after being closed since July of 2016, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported.

The closure was necessary due to elevated levels of marine toxins and a closure to protect newly set young clams from July 15 through Sept. 30 that occurs yearly.

Other Oregon beaches have remained open for razor clam digging, but Clatsop County beaches are the most popular spot and make up 90 percent of state’s harvest.

Oregon beaches are tested twice a month to ensure clams and other shellfish are safe for human consumption.

Ayres noted the most recent tests taken Sept. 8 and Sept. 22 at Clatsop County beaches showed levels at 19 parts per million (ppm), which is a hair under the 20 ppm cutoff.

During the summer of 2016, diggers found a bounty of clams during a record year with the majority of diggers attaining their 15-clam daily limit.

When the beaches reopen it is likely that diggers will find a different scenario since surveys found abundance levels significantly lower since surveys began in 2004.

“In 2016, abundance peaked and surveys estimated 16 million razor clams in the 18-mile stretch between the Columbia River south jetty and Tillamook Head,” Matt Hunter, the ODFW’s Lead Shellfish Manager said in a news release. “This year, the estimate is just 3 million clams in that area.”

“These low numbers are troubling, as they mean Clatsop beaches haven’t seen a significant recruitment event for two years,” Hunter said.  “But this recruitment issue is not isolated to just Clatsop beaches. It’s being seen on the entire Oregon coast and for Washington beaches, too.”

While total numbers are down, diggers will find larger-sized clams averaging about 4 ½ inches with only a few clams smaller than 4-inches. Surveys showed clams distributed sporadically along the entire stretch of the beach.

“While razor clam numbers are lower this year, clams are quite large,” Hunter said. “To be successful, clammers should be diligent, choose the best low tides and actively ‘pound’ to get razors to show.”

The daily limit is the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition, and sorting or releasing clams isn’t allowed.

Shellfish testing is conducted twice per month. Before going call 800-448-2474 or go to http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx.

Mark Yuasa

Outdoor Line Blogger

710 ESPN Seattle

Coastal razor clams cautiously pass first round of marine toxin testing with another round to go

Coastal razor clam enthusiasts are waiting for the green light on whether the first digs of the autumn season will come to fruition, and much of that hinges on marine toxin test results.

“We did our first run of results on Monday, and all the domoic acid — a natural marine toxin produced by certain types of marine algae that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities — numbers were OK although a couple were in the 12 (parts per million) range (the action level is 20 ppm),” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

“There was a 12 (ppm) at Twin Harbors and 12 (ppm) at Copalis, which are higher than we’ve seen in a while and not sure if it’s a trend of what is to come,” Ayres said. “We will do the next required sample dig on Monday (Sept. 25), and should know those results by (Sept. 17).”

Two clean tests are required by state Fish and Wildlife for marine toxins before they can formally announce whether a digging series will occur.

Those first two digs are scheduled to occur on Oct. 6-7 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Domoic acid test samples collected this past Monday:

Long Beach – Northern section was 6 ppm; two areas of the middle section was 8 ppm and 5 ppm; and southern section was 8 ppm. Twin Harbors – Northern section was 6 ppm; middle section was 10 ppm; and southern section was 12 ppm.

Copalis – Northern section was 9 ppm; middle section was 10 ppm; and southern section was 12 ppm. Mocrocks – Northern section was 7 ppm; and middle section was 4 ppm.

“If they are high again we may have to take another (third) sample and this will mean it could take a bit longer before we make the announcement,” Ayres noted. “We aren’t seeing a big spike in domoic acid yet and with the (cooler) weather it will cause a bloom to die off and haven’t seen that yet.”

The good news is that despite a decline of razor clam populations seen by state fisheries biologists during summer assessments it looks like diggers may see good digging prospects if it opens.

Sylvia Tsang of Mercer Island holds up a razor clam she dug from Mocrocks Beach last spring.

“My sampler said at Mocrocks there are clams all over the place, and there are small, little guys mixed in, and that is indicative of what we’ll see when they open,” Ayres said. “The stock assessment gives us numbers, but it doesn’t give an overall sense of what is there.”

“We didn’t have any problem getting clams during our assessments in particular at Mocrocks and Copalis,” he said. “And the tribes were reporting good catches, but some small clams. Some of those smaller clams are growing into the fishery, and will get bigger in the spring.”

The news might not be so rosy for those heading to the southern coast where places like Long Beach lost of lot of clams where feed was sparse and the salinity level dropped due to all the freshwater runoff in the Columbia River. The clams leftover were not fat clams at Long Beach in the spring so they also might be on the slimmer size.

Postseason estimates from 2016-17 showed 77,778 digger trips on April 12-16 and April 26-May 1 (187,261 during 2015-16 season and 162,558 during 2014-15 season) at Long Beach yielded 1,555,113 clams (more than 2.61 million and 2.29 million clams respectively) for an average of 20.0 clams per person (14.0 and 14.1 respectively) clams per person. State fisheries bumped up the daily limit to first 25 clams dug person regardless of size or condition.

Clam digging in 2016-17 at Twin Harbors was open from Oct. 14-19, Nov. 17-19 and Nov. 26-28. Digging didn’t reopen until Feb. 7-12, Feb. 23-28 and March 7-13, and then in spring on April 5-9, April 12-16 and April 26-30.

In all Twin Harbors during 2016-17 season saw 62,893 diggers taking home 834,086 clams for a 13.3 clam per person average. The first 15 clams was a daily limit regardless of size or condition. Twin Harbors was completely shutdown in 2015-16 due to elevated levels of marine toxins.

At Copalis in 2016-17 from Oct. 14 through April 30 (33 total digging days), 82,108 digger trips (69,536 in 2015-16 season and 58,626 in 2014-15) saw a harvest of 1,040,193 clams (952,020 and 780,625 respectively) for 12.7 digger average (13.7 and 13.3 respectively).

Razor clam diggers last spring look for razor clam “shows” at Moclips Beach.

At Mocrocks in 2016-17 from Oct. 14 through April 29, 57,958 digger trips (70,747 in 2015-16 and 58,739 in 2014-15) had 686,628 (965,623 and 818,645 respectively) and harvested for 11.8 digger average (13.6 and 13.9 respectively).

Hopes ran high for Kalaloch last season, which had been closed since 2011-12 season, and then saw a brief dig this past season on Jan. 8-9. That dig produced a paltry 1,410 clams for 637 diggers who averaged 2.2 clams per person.

Coast-wide during 2016-17, 68 digging days coast-wide produced 4,117,431 clams for 281,374 diggers trips compared to 4,665,743 clams with an effort of 327,545 during 2015-16 season.

Fall and winter razor clam digs occur during evening low tides while spring-time digs occur during morning low tides.

Dates have been set through New Years Eve, and as mentioned above each series hinges on marine toxin testing before opening.

Digging dates planned so far:

Oct. 6 (minus-0.4 feet at 7:49 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; and Oct. 7 (-0.7 at 8:33 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Nov. 2 (0.1 at 6:03 p.m.) at Copalis; Nov. 3 (-0.7 at 6:47 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Nov. 4 (-1.2 at 7:31 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; and Nov. 5 (-1.4 at 7:16 p.m.) on Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.

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

For more information, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

Time to start making plans to pursue fall kings in Hanford Reach area of Columbia River

Mark Yuasa (right) with guide Austin Moser of Austin’s Northwest Adventures holds up an upriver bright king caught in Hanford Reach area in mid-October of 2016.

By Mark Yuasa

For those like me who missed out on the Buoy 10 chinook fishery at the Lower Columbia River mouth last month, you can still score a second chance to catch those exact same fish about 375 miles upstream.

“The fish counts for chinook have really shot up at Bonneville and McNary dams this past week, and I’ve got a good feeling we should see fishing really improve up near Vernita very soon,” said Dave Graybill, a longtime outdoor radio host in central Washington.

“I fished the Columbia off the mouth of the Deschutes and Klickitat rivers, and we got into a pretty good bite,” Graybill said. “These fish are on the move and were fresh and very active to take our baits.”

While it is known that some of these king – better known as upriver brights – were picked off along the way, it is likely that many slipped by offering anglers another chance at encountering this decent return of 260,000 upriver bright chinook.

Boats troll up and down just off the Vernita boat launch.

Last year’s forecast was a bountiful figure of 589,000 although the actual return ended up being 406,600 headed to the Hanford Reach area in south-central Washington. Many anglers got spoiled after the 2015 return of 1.3 million, and runs between 250,000 and 500,000 are still very good.

The delightful news is 193,250 chinook had already passed Bonneville Dam through Sept. 14, and the tail-end of the king train is likely still somewhere down near  the mouth of the Cowlitz and extends way up to McNary Dam at Umatilla, Oregon where 25,274 were tallied to date.

Keep a close on eye on the fish counts at McNary and once the single-day counts hit around 5,000 to 9,000 it’s time to go! On Sept. 13, the count was 1,575 and by Sept. 14 it jumped to 3,861. It usually takes about five days for these fish to migrate to lower sections and around 10 days or so to reach the upper stretches.

The Hanford Reach area offers anglers one of the biggest late-autumn returns of kings along the entire West Coast, and also offers a chance to hook and release a boat-size sturgeon.

What gets in the way of migrating salmon to this neck of the woods (well more like farmland mixed in with arid, high bluffs, desert-like sagebrush lands) are four dams.

After clearing the fourth dam is a spectacular 51 miles of free-flowing river located between the Yakima River near Richland and Priest Rapids Dam located at River Mile 390.

The kings here are also known to be big bruisers averaging 15 to 25 pounds with some pushing 40 pounds.

I had a chance to fish in the middle of last October which is near the end of a run that peaks in late-September to early-October with friend Graybill of Leavenworth, Eric Granstrom of Wenatchee and Austin Moser of Austin’s Northwest Adventures in Wenatchee.

We launched from a rough gravel ramp just above Highway 24/Vernita Bridge on Columbia, and the fishing grounds are easy on the gas bill since the best fishing occurs right in front at a place known as the “King Hole,” which was a deep slot about 50 to 60 feet deep.

There are other fishing holes like the Hog Hole, and the Midway Drift and China Bar Drift located above King Hole.

Our tactics was to slow troll and back-bounce our Spin-N-Glos (a brightly orange-colored winged bobber) and a gob of salmon cluster eggs the size of a tennis ball plus Kwikfish lures wrapped with sardines and smeared in a sardine scent jelly against the current.

Look for this fishery to continue to blossom in the years to come as a big upriver bright chinook production program at Priest Rapids and Ringold, and the wild chinook runs to this area remain robust.

The Hanford Reach area still has strong numbers of fish coming back when you look at historical data. The spawning escapement of 60,000 at McNary has been easily attainable year in and out, and they’ve been able to meet their goals for more than a decade.

A report last week from Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, indicated fishing was very slow, but did show some slight improvement.  State fisheries staff interviewed 126 boats with 262 anglers and 16 bank anglers (Ringold access area) and sampled 13 adult chinook and two jack chinook.

Through Sept. 10, 105 adult fall chinook and 10 chinook jacks have been caught in the Hanford Reach from 2,105 angler trips. Effort and harvest has been much lower this year compared to 2016.

The fishery from the I-182 Bridge to Rock Island Dam is open through Oct. 22, and from Rock Island to Wells Dam is open until Oct. 15. Be sure to check the regulation pamphlet for specifics.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle