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

 

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

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

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

By Mark Yuasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other dates planned are:

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

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

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

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

Oregon reopens for razor clams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Yuasa

Outdoor Line Blogger

710 ESPN Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domoic acid test samples collected this past Monday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging dates planned so far:

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mark Yuasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Yuasa
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Wildfire Deer Camp Alternatives

Alternatives for Deer Camp’s Affected by Wildfire

by Jason Brooks

With several wildfires burning up the Cascade mountains from Mt. Rainier to the Canadian border those that like to hunt mule deer might have to make different plans this year. With six major fires that are all but out of control with no end in sight until the snow falls along with the mule deer coming off of one of the worst winters in decades it seems that “deer camp” is closed. But one great thing about Washington is that we have three deer species to hunt and several options when it comes to chasing after them. Here are a few tips to help with this fall’s hunts.

 

Hunt Blacktails in Western Washington, like this mature buck -Rob Endsley

1. Hunt Blacktails

It goes without saying that if you can’t get to your favorite mule deer grounds then stay on the west side and hunt blacktails. The smallest of our deer in this state is also one of the hardest to hunt. Most mature bucks prefer nighttime feeding during the first few weeks of Fall. But luckily the season is long with just over two full weeks for the October hunt and a four-day late season in November for rifle hunters. Archery and muzzle loader hunters have even longer and more liberal seasons.

Blacktails don’t need much room to roam as most live their entire lives in two-hundred acres or less. If you find a nice blacktail buck then keep concentrating on that area. You are likely to find him again. As the rut nears-starting the last few days of the general modern firearm season and ending around the weekend of the late buck hunt-bucks stay our during the daytime longer and will even respond to rattling and calling.

 

Chase after Whitetails like this buck that Brian Chlipala found just east of the Washington-Idaho border. -Brian Chlipala

2. Chase Whitetails

For hunters who hunt Eastern Washington it might be a great year to switch over to the whitetail deer. Mostly found in the far eastern portions of the state there are pockets of whitetails in the Okanogan area as well as some in northern Chelan County. In Southwest Washington the high jumping, tail wagging deer is found in the foothills of the blues. In the Northeast above Spokane whitetails are just about everywhere. Your hardest part of the whitetail hunt will be gaining access to the many small parcels of private lands that “checkerboard” the public lands.

 

Mule Deer can be found in recent burns, such as this buck taken by Ryan Brooks in the Methow after the 2015 fire -Jason Brooks

3. Hunt smart for Mule Deer

Yes, there are still places to hunt mulies this fall. Look towards the Snake River breaks and the vast lands managed by the BLM. Other options include the WDFW lands in Grant, Asotin, Douglas, Ferry, and Benton Counties. The Blue mountains also have some really good mule deer bucks and Forest Service lands.

If you do decide to hunt near the fire areas keep in mind that there will be some closures outside of the burns. This is mostly due to remote access and the need to fight the fires or rehabilitate them once the fall rains come. Fires burn in a mosaic pattern and there will be places on the fringe of the fires that will hold deer. If we get a good rain once the fire is out then grasses will sprout and the green-up is welcomed by deer getting ready for winter. Make sure to check with the local ranger district for any access restrictions. You can also find current fire information at the Forest Service fire website.

 

Fire’s will eventually provide more feed for mule deer and the hunting will get better in time. -Jason Brooks

The Future

For this fall most of the mule deer areas will be affected, either directly by the fires or by over-use from hunters looking to find a place to go after being closed out of their normal spots. One thing wildfire does is open up the canopy to allow grasses and brush to grow. By next spring the buckbrush will be growing and the deer will return quickly to the burn areas. In 2015 we hunted in a burn that occurred earlier in the summer and my son took an exceptional buck. The deer had been sneaking down to an alfalfa field at night and by mid-day was back in the fresh burn. By bedding in the deep ash the buck had virtually no ticks on him. He was healthy and fat.

This shows promise as deer can bounce back pretty fast from wildfires. It will take a few years to recover from the harsh winter of 2016-17 but with next year’s excessive feed from the new burns this will actually help the deer recover quicker. Keep a positive mind and use this year to find a back-up plan. Who knows, you might just find yourself in a new deer camp and an adventure of a lifetime.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Nootka!



 

Nootka Sound Salmon Fishing!

by Jason Brooks

 

Nootka Island has inlets that lead to many rivers and streams as well as high mountains, all of which provide protected waters for anglers that venture to the far north looking for a fishing trip of a lifetime. This is remote fishing, though you won’t be alone. Many lodges, campgrounds, and locals cater to the anglers who head here each year to intercept the large salmon migration. Most of the fish are heading south from Alaska to the coast of Washington, Oregon and California plus the famed Frazer River in southern British Columbia.

 

Flynn’s Cove is one of the many places to stay while fishing Nootka Sound-Jason Brooks

There are many places to stay as well as fish and it can be a bit overwhelming if you have never been to the Nootka area. On my recent trip with Ralph Thomas, a veteran of the Nootka fishery, we stayed at Flynn’s Cove where we rented a private cabin and did our own “do it yourself” trip. For those that want to splurge you can find many resorts and full service lodges that provide everything except your toothbrush. Either option you choose the fishing will be great but it is not a “cheap” trip. Even going on a budget, do it yourself, trip the costs is still around $2,000 for first timers. Once you learn what you need and what you don’t need then the price can be brought down a little.

 

A nice Chinook caught by Ralph Thomas in the open ocean off of the west coast of Nootka Island-Jason Brooks

Fishing is very versatile with inside protected waters available for the days that you can’t get out to the open ocean. Fishing the inside can be a bit slower, but the fish are there and once you find them and what they are biting on a great bite can be had. We often fished in the open ocean during the morning until mid-day and then came inside to fish the evening and be closer to the cabin at the end of the day.

 

Wiggle Bill Hoochie set-up by Mack’s Lure caught many Kings-Jason Brooks

For fishing in the open ocean we went as far at 16 miles offshore, so a big, ocean going boat is a must for out here. Once we found the fish “highway” around the 300-foot line we dropped our gear and things got a bit crazy. Doubles were common and we opted to mostly gear fish instead of using bait as that way we didn’t have to worry about our presentation. Mack’s Lure Wiggle Bill Hoochies which are UV and give the hoochie extra action were our most productive lures. We filled the cavity of the hooch with Pro-Cure Sardine Super Sauce.

 

The “All-star Line-up” of Pro-Cure that helped us keep fish and clean our gear-Jason Brooks

When we fished inside we switched from plug cut herring to spoons and even some Brad’s Super Cut Plug’s behind dodgers. The fishing can be just as crazy and dangerous when fishing near rocks and other boats. We caught a few Coho inside as well as a lot of “feeder” Chinook in the 10 to 15 pound range. One nice thing about fishing inside is the wildlife where we were surrounded by eagles, otters and black bears.

 

Wildlife was everywhere you looked when fishing inside the inlet-Jason Brooks

Bottom fishing was fantastic as well. We fished one morning inside for some lingcod and rockfish near the rock piles where we had some incidental catches while trolling for salmon. Then when we got serious for bottom fish we headed about 4 miles out and found a large flat and some smaller rock piles. Here we put on mooching weights and a 30-inch leader of 25 pound Izorline XXX to a Brad’s Super Cut Plug stuffed with minced herring and Pro-Cure Herring Super Sauce. This allowed us to drop the weights to the bottom, reel up a crank on the reel, and not get hung up on the bottom.

 

Bottom fishing is fantastic in Nootka Sound and off the coast in the open ocean-Jason Brooks

If you have ever thought about heading north to Nootka, or if you have done it in the past but just want to try a new area, then start planning next year’s trip now. Most resorts fill up fast on return bookings. Hotels along the way also can have limited vacancy this time of year as this is a very popular vacation fishing destination.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

Jason Brooks Photography

Retired state fisheries regional director Bob Everitt may have caught a new state Pacific sanddab record

Ichiro Nakata of Mercer Island holds up a small flounder he caught off Possession Point. Retired state fisheries regional director Bob Everitt has set a possible new state record for a sanddab flounder he caught on July 1 off Jefferson Head.

Something mighty fishy has been happening in Puget Sound, and it deals with one tiny bottom-dwelling sea creature that often gets no respect in the sport-fishing world.

Just a short while ago – on May 25 to be exact – the state record for a Pacific sanddab was set by Juan Valero of Seattle who caught a 1.00 pound fish off Possession Point in northern Puget Sound.

Now it looks like that newly established record could be in jeopardy after recently retired Bob Everitt, the former Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife director for the Region Four Mill Creek Office, could have broken the record during a fishing outing on July 1.

While unofficial until verified by WDFW, Everitt who spent 33.7 years as a state fisheries employee, was out fishing with Danny Garrett, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, off Jefferson Head where the duo was mooching for resident coho salmon and seeking out Dungeness crab on the opening day in Marine Catch Area 10 (central Puget Sound).

“It was Everitt’s first day of retirement from our department, and he was super excited,” Garrett said. “I’ve never mooched for salmon before so I wanted to try and catch a coho. We had only hooked a couple of (dogfish) sharks and a few sanddabs, and gave it just an hour or two while we soaked our crab pots.”

“We weren’t taking anything too seriously, and it was around 4 p.m. when (Everitt) hooked not just one but two sanddabs on each of his (tandem) hooks,” Garrett said. “After he caught it I told him we should get it weighed because I knew it was bigger (than the previous record) just by looking at it.”

Everitt and Garrett followed all the procedures to make it an official state record (http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/records/) by immediately taking it a grocery store that had a certified scale.

“It weighed 1.22 pounds and was 14 inches long, and that would edge out the record fish caught by Valero by .22 pounds,” Garrett said. “(Everitt) has been a fixture with the state agency, and what a great way to kick off his retirement.”

While unofficial until official, the soon-to-be record is being processed by WDFW, and an announcement along with a picture should come to light very soon.

 

 

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com