2018 Salmon Season’s Set

by Jason Brooks

North of Falcon has finished up and now we know what to expect for our salmon season’s this year. Like a tide change during a wind storm, it all depends on how you look at the opportunities, either a turbulent crashing of waves or a few rollers to cause a little nausea. Either way most of the seasons are borderline okay to good with a few that might have some anglers foregoing their annual plans. One thing is certain and that is this year the various fisheries agencies as well as the tribes involved came to an agreement that all of our salmon runs need to be carefully monitored and cared for.

For all of the details check out the announcement by WDFW North of Falcon Season Setting. But here is a quick rundown on some of the more popular fisheries.

Grant Blinn with a Westport Marine Area 2 Chinook. This year it opens July 1st-Jason Brooks

Ocean Opener’s

Westport (Area 2) won’t open until July 1st with a weekly schedule of fishing only Sunday through Thursday. June 23rd is the opener for Marine Areas 1, 3, and 4 and all of ocean areas close on September 3rd or until the quota is met. WDFW announced, “The Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a recreational chinook catch quota of 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.” All wild Coho must be released. A two salmon limit but only one Chinook per day in Areas 1,2, and 4.

South Sound anglers will have more opportunities for Chinook in Marine Area’s 11 & 13-Jason Brooks

Puget Sound

Marine Area 9 is due to open in July with a chinook quota of 5,563 fish. Marine Area 10 is going to open for Coho in mid-June and the chinook retention season will open in mid-July with a 4,743 chinook quota which is more than last year. Marine Areas 11 and 13, known as the South Sound, will have good to great season as the south Puget Sound rivers are expected to have higher returns of chinook and coho. Area 11 will have a salmon season opening in June with a marked chinook retention and a non-marked or marked coho fishery. Area 13 will be open year around but both chinook and coho must be clipped.

Buoy 10 will be a short three week season with a one fish per day limit-Jason Brooks

Buoy 10

Anglers from all over the Northwest make their pilgrimage to the famed Buoy 10 fishery. This year it will be a short season and possibly a short day on the water with a “one salmonid” per day limit. This includes chinook, clipped Coho or clipped steelhead. It’s a “one and done” limit but earlier this spring rumors abound of limited days per week closures similar to Marine Area 2. That didn’t happen but the season is opening on August 1st and closing on August 24th from below Rocky Point/Tongue Point.

The circus of a fishery on the Skokomish River won’t happen again this year as WDFW and the Tribe continue to dispute the boundary-Jason Brooks

Skokomish River

Once again there will be no fishing on the Skokomish River. Regardless of what side you fall on regarding hating this fishery or loving it; this river is one of the very few with an over-abundance of hatchery chinook. The fish are all off limits to anglers once they hit the river as the boundary dispute continues between WDFW and the Skokomish Tribe.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

 

 

Halibut sport quotas set and season starts May 11, and salmon season process meeting is Tuesday

The halibut catch quotas were finalized this past week, and anglers can start making plans to pursue these hard-fighting bottom dwellers when the season gets underway on May 11 off the coast and open areas of Puget Sound.

“The catch quota of 1.19-million pounds (for sport, tribal and non-tribal commercial fisheries) was adopted in Catch Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California),” said Heather Reed, the state Fish and Wildlife policy coordinator who also mentioned success last year was good in all marine areas open for halibut fishing.

Last year, the catch quota in Area 2A was 1.33-million, and 1.14-million in 2016.

The total Washington sport catch quota this season is 225,366 pounds, down a bit from 237,762 in 2017, and a bump up from 214,110 in 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A breakdown of sport catch quota is 11,182 pounds for the all-depth fishery off Ilwaco (Marine Catch Area 1) with another 500 pounds set aside for a near-shore fishery.

At Westport (Area 2) it is 44,341 pounds for the primary season and 2,000 pounds for a near-shore fishery. At Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) the quota is 111,632 pounds. In Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound (Areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10) the season total is 60,995 pounds.

The halibut fishing dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound are May 11 and 13, and May 25 and 27. Other potential dates – depending on harvest totals – are June 7, 9, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30.

The Westport near-shore fishery will open first Saturday after the closure of the primary fishery and be open daily until the quota is projected to be taken.

The opening date at Ilwaco is May 3 for the all-depth fishery. Fishing will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays only, and closes Sept. 30 or until the quota is achieved, whichever comes first. The Ilwaco near-shore season opens May 7, and fishing allowed Mondays through Wednesdays only.

In all areas the daily limit is one halibut with no minimum size limit.

A change in how fishing seasons were structured occurred in 2017 to avoid exceeding catch quotas in Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound waterways.

Reed says this new guidance and more consistent season has allowed the sport allocation to stay within the guidelines set forth, something that hadn’t been accomplished for several years.

The average size of halibut last year at Neah Bay and La Push was 18 pounds; Ilwaco, 14 pounds; Westport, 16 pounds; and Strait of Juan de Fuca/Puget Sound, 24 pounds.

The most popular fishing area is the northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push at Swiftsure Bank located 10 to 14 miles west of Cape Flattery; Blue Dot; 72 Square; Table Top; the Prairie; Umatilla Reef; Garbage Dump; Waadah Island; and Duncan Rock.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca try off the mouth of the Sekiu River and Hoko River; Eagle Bay; Clallam Bay; Slip Point; Whiskey Creek; Freshwater Bay; Green Point east of Port Angeles; and Rock Pile north of Ediz Hook.

Good underwater shelfs where halibut tend to hug the bottoms are Coyote, Hein, Middle, Eastern and Partridge banks as well as inner-waterways like Mutiny Bank, Bombing Range, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Admiralty Bay on west side of Whidbey Island; and Useless Bay.

Once you get your fill of halibut, be sure to get your fill of black rockfish and lingcod, which opened on March 10 at Ilwaco, Westport and La Push. Neah Bay is also open for bottomfish fishing except the lingcod fishery opens April 16.

Deckhand Johnny Zelepuza on the charter boat Slammer hoists a 30 pound lingcod caught off Westport.

The black rockfish population remains strong off the coast. A spike in the canary rockfish population will also allow sport anglers to keep one daily off Ilwaco and Westport only as part of an anglers seven rockfish daily limit. Fishing for canary rockfish is still off limits at La Push and Neah Bay.

Sport anglers may keep all lingcod regardless of their size. 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.

North of Falcon salmon meeting is Tuesday

A little more than a week remains before state fisheries and Pacific Fishery Management Council develop final salmon fishing seasons for Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and coast.

In a move to create more transparency in the process the state and tribal co-managers on Tuesday’s North of Falcon meeting will offer an open joint session where the public can take part at 1 p.m. at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. West.

The discussion will cover a variety of topics on salmon-related issues including conservation objectives for Puget Sound chinook salmon, habitat restoration efforts and salmon fisheries. The public will be invited to ask questions after brief opening remarks by the state and tribal co-managers.

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

In the first North of Falcon meeting on March 20, an early “wish list” of fisheries were created with the emphasis put on being cautious on some wild salmon returns that have fallen into the poor status category.

One highlight is hopefully getting a Puget Sound coho fishing in late-summer and early-fall, which has faced some tough times in recent years due to very poor returns. In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu and Port Angeles could also see a hatchery coho season from July through mid-September.

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

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

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

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

The three sport ocean salmon fishing options show summer seasons will likely be somewhat slimmer than last year in the overall catch quotas as some salmon returns to the Columbia River are going to be down.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION ONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION TWO

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

OCEAN SPORT FISHERY OPTION THREE

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

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

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

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

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

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

All areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.

Upcoming meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting dates to set the salmon fishing seasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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