Coastal bottomfishing season starts soon, plus word on springer and razor clams

The popular of the coastal black rockfish and lingcod sport fishery gets underway on March 10 off some coastal ports, and anglers can expect some blissful spring days on water weather permitting.

The black rockfish population remains healthy in coastal waters, according to Heather Reed, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal fish biologist.

Reed did point out that while black rockfish populations were good in 2017 there was an increase of catch in 2016 and most likely stemmed from the lack of coastal sport salmon fisheries. Charter and private sport anglers rely heavily on bottom-fish especially during the spring when other fisheries are closed.

The coastal sport fishery in 2017 was limited to 632,726 pounds of black rockfish.

The coastal sport fishery opens March 10 through Oct. 20 for bottomfish including lingcod off Ilwaco, Westport and La Push (Marine Catch Areas 1, 2 and 3).

The northern coast off Neah Bay (Area 4) also opens March 10 through Oct. 20 for bottom-fish except the lingcod fishery is open April 16 through Oct. 15.

A spike in the canary rockfish population allowed sport anglers in 2017 to retain one daily off Ilwaco and Westport only for the first time in about 15 years. That one canary daily limit will still be in effect for 2018 as part of an anglers seven rockfish daily limit. Fishing for canary rockfish is still not allowed at La Push and Neah Bay.

Sport anglers may keep all lingcod regardless of their size due to a rise in their population in the ocean. Anglers should also be aware of certain depth restrictions in coastal deep-water lingcod fisheries.

Sport anglers who pursue halibut and bottomfish are now required to carry a descending device onboard their boat in all marine areas, including the coast. Descending devices are used to release rockfish back to the depth and improve their survival when released. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/bottomfish/rockfish/mortality.html.

Word on Lower Columbia spring chinook fishery

Washington and Oregon fishery managers will announce the 2018 Columbia River spring chinook fisheries on Wednesday in Portland, Oregon.

But, word leaked out in Terry Otto’s column in The Columbian (http://www.columbian.com/news/2018/feb/15/spring-chinook-season-comes-into-focus/) last week.

Otto said that “while not official yet it looks as if fishermen will get a 38-day season from the I-5 Bridge to the Bonneville Dam with a single hatchery chinook daily limit. Anglers would get to fish for springers from March 1 through April 7.”

The preliminary dates were pitched at the Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group meeting last week in Clackamas, Oregon.

“I would expect the initial sport fishery seasons will look pretty similar to what was set last year, and it’s hard to draw any scenarios right now,” said a WDFW spokeswoman at the Vancouver WDFW office. “There are so many variables that could affect the success. Some years we see early catches while in other years it’s more of a late-timed return.”

Other options Otto mentioned in his column were keeping the season open until April 1, and then allowing fishing on Wednesdays and Saturdays for a four-day April season. Another option would be no season in March with a 12-day season in April.

Spring chinook fishing is currently open in the Lower Columbia below the I-5 Bridge, and a few have been reported caught in the big river as well as lower-river tributaries like the Cowlitz and Willamette rivers.

For the moment the daily limit is two-fish, and then drops to one hatchery chinook daily on March 1.

The 2018 forecast is 166,700 upriver spring chinook, which is 90 percent of recent 10-year average return. That is compared to 160,400 forecasted in 2017 and an actual return of 115,822, but somewhat down from 2016’s 188,800 and 187,816. In addition, 21,692 jack spring chinook returned in 2017 and was the seventh highest return dating back to 1979.

The WDFW draws up computer model salmon return forecasts – also known as “paper fish” – in December that annually offer anglers a peek into the crystal ball of salmon fishing expectations.

A majority of Columbia River “spring/early summer” are Snake River-bound fish with 107,400 forecasted in 2018, which is nearly twice as many as 2017’s actual return of 51,948 (95,800 was the forecast).

The Willamette River forecast is 53,820 adult and 2,130 jack spring chinook with 19,460 being the allowable catch total. The initial forecast in 2017 was for 40,200 fish (later it was updated to 38,100 fish) although the actual return ended up being 56,163.

Washington’s Lower Columbia tributaries are expecting 5,150 for Cowlitz, 1,450 in Kalama and 3,700 in Lewis rivers.

The largest spring adult chinook return on record was 541,000 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 12,792 (12,000) in 1995.

Many are cautious on expectations in 2018 due in large part to warm ocean conditions that have stayed in place since the fall of 2014, but could be waning. The ocean ecosystem was turned upside down in 2015 and 2016 creating very poor outmigration for young salmon survival.

There was some news last year that the situation was on the mend, and the ecosystem was returning in a positive direction. In summer of 2017, the copepod system switched back to a cold water community a sign that it was transitioning to more normal conditions.

The spring chinook fishery creates a fishing frenzy beginning as early as January and February, and builds to a crescendo in late March or early April.

Last year, 63,303 angler trips were taken with 9,047 adult spring hatchery chinook kept and 943 released, plus another 137 steelhead kept and 113 released. That averages out to about one hatchery spring chinook kept for every 6.9 trips.

Fishing on Lower Columbia River was open daily from Buoy 10 to I-5 Bridge from Jan. 1-Feb. 7 in 2017. The fishery then expanded up to Bonneville Dam from March 1-April 10, and April 13-17 and April 20-23.

Spring coastal razor clam digs likely to be slim pickings

Tentative coastal razor clams have been set from March through April, and no other digging dates will occur until then.

“Opportunities are pretty limited until the spring digs occur,” said Dan Ayres, the head WDFW coastal shellfish manager.

Final approval will depend on further marine toxin testing, which Ayres says have remained well below the action level.

The green light will likely be announced a week before each scheduled dig series.

Digs in March occur during evening low tides after 12 p.m. while those in April are during morning low tides until times noted below.

More digging dates could occur later this spring if sufficient clams remain available to harvest.

Dates are: March 2 (minus-0.8 feet at 6:54 p.m.) at Mocrocks; March 3 (0.3 at 7:34 p.m.) at Mocrocks; March 16 (0.2 at 7:03 p.m.) at Copalis and Mocrocks; March 17 (0.2 at 7:36 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; April 19 (-0.9 at 9:46 a.m.) at Mocrocks; April 20 (-0.7 at 10:37 a.m.) at Mocrocks; April 21 (-0.4 at 11:34 a.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks, digging hours will be extended to 1 p.m.; and April 22 (-0.1 at 12:38 p.m.) at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks, digging hours will be extended to 2 p.m.

A week-long coastal razor clam dig wrapped up on Feb. 3 with 33,723 diggers hitting the beaches and pulling out 299,848 razor clams.

Ayres said there was a decrease in success, but it had nothing to do with a drop in clam populations.

The most likely scenario was people struggled with darkness and weren’t prepared with lanterns, and also simply related to a lack of experience in digging for clams.

Best area was Copalis where 5,003 diggers had 66,184 clams for 13.2 clams per person (daily limit is 15 clams). That was followed by Twin Harbors where 7,086 diggers had 75,767 clams for 10.7 average. Mocrocks had 9,165 diggers with 71,135 clams for 7.8 average and Long Beach saw 11,470 diggers with 86,761 clams for a 7.6 average.

The season total for 19 days of digging on the coast that began Oct. 6 is 153,126 diggers with 1,721,458 razor clams. Season average per digger is 10.2 at Long Beach (58,541 diggers with 594,211 clams); 12.0 at Twin Harbors (33,928 with 408,165); 12.7 at Copalis (29,794 with 378,017); and 11.4 at Mocrocks (30,862 with 351,407).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Catch More “B” Run Coho this Holiday Season

by Jason Brooks

Brian Chlipala with a “Christmas” Coho-Jason Brooks

With all of the rain predicted this week and warmer temperatures making for swollen rivers that means that the “B” run Coho will be arriving!

Fish have been trickling in for the past few weeks, pushing in with the last of the chums. Now that the wet weather is here the late returning Coho will only get better once the rivers become fishable. Here are a few tips on increasing your catch on these big “Christmas” Coho.

Wrapped plugs in high and off-color water are deadly for late Coho-Jason Brooks

Backtrolling Plugs

In high water look for moving fish along soft edges. This is where pulling plugs can really put a lot of fish in the box. K-15 Kwikfish, Yakima Bait Company Mag-Lip 3.5’s and 4’s, or Brad’s Killer Fish K14’s wrapped with a piece of herring or tuna belly are great producers in high water. Bright colors such as double Trouble, Fickle Pickle, and Mad Clown are top producers for Coho.

Use spinners, plugs, and spoons for low visibility and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

Throw Hardware

While the waters are high and off color using a bright spinner, spoon, or even throwing and retrieving plugs like the Brad’s Wigglers, Wiggle Warts, or Yakima Bait Fat Wiggler’s can make for fast action. Coho are known to be aggressive and in waters where visibility is limited be sure to use bright colors with a metallic finish. Vibrax size 5 spinners are a mainstay when it comes to catching coho in off colored water.

Jigs twitched in backwaters and under logs are hard to beat for B run Coho-Jason Brooks

Twitching Jigs

Late Coho like to stack up in backwaters and soft-water pockets. Twitching jigs has become one of the most popular techniques for the slow water where these fish hold, but don’t overlook “drift twitching” which is twitching jigs in current. Look for logs and trees where the water is only a few feet deep. As you float by these areas toss in a jig and give it a twitch. My “go to” twitching jigs are Mack’s Lure Rock Dancer made of bucktail so they can withstand the toothy hook-nosed bucks. Try black and purple or cerise and black in 3/8 ounce. Another great twitching jig is the Aero Jig from Hawken Fishing. They come in both 1/2 ounce and 3/8 ounce sizes and are lethal twitching jigs in the river.

Use a heavy dose of scents and add some bait to jigs in high water-Jason Brooks

Scent It Up

Don’t forget to use a lot of scent, especially when the water is still high and visibility is low. Pro-Cure Super Sauce or Super Gels hold on in the turbulent waters. Shrimp is one of the most productive scents but also give bloody tuna, salmon egg, herring, or anchovy a try. Tip your jigs with a piece of raw prawn or sand shrimp tail and wrap your plugs with a sardine fillet to add more scent.

Check the river conditions before you go-Jason Brooks

Know When and Where To Go

Keep an eye on the current river graphs and the forecasts for river levels. Once your favorite salmon river peaks and starts to drop the fish will be on the move. If the rivers drop back down to historical means then look for fish in the back eddies, coves, and sloughs. If the water is still above the mean level then target the seams and travel lanes, such as along the soft grassy edges where the fish will be on the move.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

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.

 

Catch More Salmon in Low Water

by Jason Brooks

With a dry summer and now a fall that is extending the dry season our rivers are extremely low. But even with the skinny water the salmon need to get to the spawning grounds and are entering with each new tide. What might seem like lock-jawed fish it can be very frustrating to get the fish to bite. Here are a few tips to consider when fishing low water and making the most of the conditions to catch more fish.

Finding where the fish are holding is key in low water conditions-Jason Brooks

Find “pocket water” which are small areas with structure. They can be as simple as a small run with sunken logs that the fish will use for cover. Floating eggs along the structure to fish that are hiding will allow you to target biting fish.

Downsize your baits when the water is low-Jason Brooks

Smaller baits. Instead of fishing the standard “golf ball” sized bait switch to smaller egg clusters and the 18 count sand shrimp or jus the tails of the dozen count. The low water means you don’t need a large bait and the smaller baits allow you to use a smaller hook size which will penetrate easier and quicker to a fish that isn’t grabbing it very hard.

Concentrate on smaller areas where fish will use structure such as sunken logs to hide-Jason Brooks

Find shade, find fish. The low water and bright sunny days means the fish will seek cover and if you look into the underlying areas below overhanding tree limbs you will find fish resting in the shade. Cast well upstream and float into the fish so not to spook them out of the holding area.

Hiring a Pro-Guide to learn new ways to fish your favorite river will increase your catch rate-Mike Ainsworth (First Light Guide Service)

Hire a guide. Yes, we know that hiring a guide to learn a new river is the quickest way to increase your knowledge of the watershed. But even on rivers that you already know how to navigate hiring a guide also teaches you how to fish during different water conditions. This past week I floated the Humptulips and it was at an all-time low flow. As we passed Mike Ainsworth of First Light Guide Service (206-817-0394) he smiled and let us know that his clients had already caught several low water salmon in a spot that most other anglers pass by.

Get out and fish when you can and adjust for the water conditions, which is how I landed this fall Chinook earlier this week-Jason Brooks

Don’t wait for the rains to come. Instead adjust your fishing techniques and where to look for the fish. Head out and enjoy this great fall weather as the rain and cold will come soon enough.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blog Writer

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

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

 

Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor receive top billing for autumn salmon fishing

Karyl Beyerle of Olympia with a 20 pound king. Big fish like this can be found at places along the inner-coast waterways and estuaries in fall. Credit photo to Tony Floor.

By Mark Yuasa

Now that ocean salmon fisheries have concluded, it’s time for anglers to shift attention to estuaries and lower tributaries as fish migrate upstream heading into autumn.

One area garnering plenty of notice lately is Willapa Bay where a king forecast of 36,805 (32,674 are of hatchery origin) have started to appear in catches, and fishing has been decent since it opened on Aug. 1.

“I give high marks as we head into (September), and the main herd of the local king run typically peaks historically around Labor Day,” said Tony Floor, the director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.

“When WIllapa opened on first of August they had one of their best early fisheries ever, and that can be based on Columbia River kings dipping into the Washaway Beach area (located west of Tokeland),” Floor said. “The first 10 days were very good and it has cooled off since but still kicking out some fish.”

Salmon fishing this past Saturday during the Willapa Day Salmon Derby was good with some anglers hooking multiple fish between Channel Markers 13 and 19 during the mid-day incoming tide.

The hatchery chinook fishery will continue to produce glory moments now through the end of this month.

Those will be followed on the heels of what should be a very nice return of coho from the middle of this month through October. The forecast is 91,718 (54,998 are of hatchery origin) compared to 67,609 (28,093) last year.

On the bigger tidal exchanges grass can be a problem for anglers and will foul up fishing gear.

“I’ve heard the grass was minimal early on, but as we have these long hot summer days the grass has become more problematic in the past week to 10 days,” Floor said. “Grass is horrific on the ebb tide, and worse on bigger tide exchanges. The best way to avoid this is by fishing during the softer tidal series.”

This is a shallow water fishery so letting out 12 to 16 pulls of line at depths of 15 to 25 feet is key to get your presentation spinning just off the sandy bottom. Gear is similar to the Buoy-10 salmon fishery where an angler will use a five- to seven-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six- to eight-foot leader and cut-plug or whole herring.

Willapa Bay is open now through Jan. 31 with a six fish daily limit and only three may be adults. Minimum size limit is 12 inches, and release wild chinook. The two-pole endorsement is allowed.

The non-tribal commercial gill-net fishery gets underway on Sept. 16, and word to the wise is avoid going when the nets are in the water. For a netting schedule, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/commercial/salmon/season_setting.html.

Moving up the coast, Grays Harbor is another fall salmon fishery that is definitely worth trip when it opens on Sept. 16, and while chinook are off-limits look for this spot to produce big, brawny coho that can reach in upwards of 20 pounds.

The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 86,398 (50,043 are of wild origin) compared to 27,841 last year, which is a remarkable turn-around. On the other-hand the chinook outlook of 21,824 (5,362 are of hatchery origin), but will allow an in-river fishery in Humptulips River that opened on Sept. 1.

“I would anglers who plan to fish Grays Harbor is to be very knowledgeable with the rules as they change from year-to-year,” Floor said.

Just as a refresher on the rules right now the Humptulips North Bay fishery is open through Sept. 15 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and release wild coho. The eastern Grays Harbor fishery opens Sept. 16 through Nov. 30 with a daily limit of two salmon combined, and only one wild coho may be retained and release all chinook.

Another fun coho-only fishery in early fall is the Westport Boat Basin which is open through Jan. 31, but the best action usually occurs now through October. The daily limit is six salmon, and no more than four may be adult fish. Release chinook, no night fishing and an anti-snagging rule is in effect. Only single-barbless hooks may be used.

The boat ride from the Westport Marina to the main fishing ground takes about 15 minutes along the harbor’s south channel toward an area off the Johns River mouth. Start at the “Goal Post” – a set of rotting wood pilings – near entrance marker off the Johns River.

Plan on trolling in an easterly direction where a trough runs east and west along the shoreline toward the Chehalis River mouth. Many will use Stearns Bluff, a landmark hillside east of the Johns River as the ending spot.

The gear is a six-ounce drop sinker attached to a three-way slip swivel with a Kone Zone flasher to a six-foot leader and a whole or cut-plug herring. Simply let out 12 to 16 pulls of fishing line — since this is a shallow water fishery at depths of 15 to 25 feet — and make sure your bait is spinning just a foot or so off the sandy bottom.

Constantly check your gear as the harbor can be loaded with eel grass mainly on a low tide when its pulled away from shore.

“Fish don’t like salad on your bait,” according to Floor.

The action occurs during the flood tide, but there can be brief bites on the ebb tide too. Getting out at the crack of dawn is how it works at Grays Harbor, and here it’s all about tides.

There are three major boat launches in Grays Harbor, and the four-lane ramp at Westport is the most convenient. Next is a small two-lane ramp ideal for smaller boats just inside the Johns River. Both are best to access the south channel.

The other is the 28th Street launch in Hoquiam just inside the Chehalis River mouth, and is best to access the north channel fishery.

Use caution when running your boat from any of the launch sites, and always be sure to follow the channel markers as there are many shallow sandbars (especially at low tide) where you can ground a vessel. Also be aware of large ships traveling to and from the ocean.

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle