2018 Columbia River Fall Chinook Forecast

2018 Fall Chinook Forecast for the Columbia River

by Jason Brooks

The 2018 Fall Columbia River Chinook forecast was just announced today. Anglers hoping to catch an Upriver Bright won’t be too excited over the forecast. Last fall the predicted return was 582,600 fish but after the season was over the actual return fell over 100,000 short of that with 475,900 Chinook arriving. 2018 predicted return is 365,600 total Chinook.

Buzz Ramsey with a 2017 Columbia Upriver Bright-Jason Brooks

 

Looking at last years’ predictions and returns, most of the runs were assumed to be higher than what really came back. But the over-estimated Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) was way off with a 2017 prediction of 158,400 and only 48,200 coming back. 2018 has fish biologist making lower predictions, hopefully underestimated.

An estimated 200,100 Upriver Bright (URB) run, still less than half of the ten-year average, is on par with the other stocks predictions with a total run estimation about half of the ten-year average. Biologist stated, “Several years of poor ocean conditions are likely contributing to the decreased returns”, once again blaming the warm water blob and other conditions to the reason for the low returns.

One bright note is that the Colville Confederated Tribe hatchery at Bridgeport is finally putting out 2.9 million smolts. Last year being the first year of returning adult fish. Even if Buoy 10 is slow this year, the famed Brewster terminal fishery at the mouth of the Okanogan River should provide a good opportunity at some summer Chinook. But come fall, anglers might be looking at shorter seasons depending on the North of Falcon process.

 

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Ling Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

5 Tips for High Water Steelhead

5 TIP’S FOR HIGH WATER STEELHEAD

by Jason Brooks

Two weeks of rain and counting with more to come. It seems like our rivers and streams will never come back “into shape” and our winter steelhead season continues to dwindle down from months to weeks. Rain and high water makes it difficult but it doesn’t mean that anglers can’t go fishing. Once the rivers stabilize it is time to give a few different techniques a try to increase your catch rate in high water.

Ted Schuman with a steelhead caught during a recent rain storm and high water conditions-Jason Brooks

 

Target travel lanes and soft edges.

As the saying goes, “Fish where the fish are”. The most obvious places are behind boulders and root wads, but don’t overlook points that are jutting out into the river and create a current break. The high water is now flooding weeds, brush and shoreline grasses  that slows the currents and the fish often hold in the “soft waters” near the river’s edge.

Fish the soft edges right at the bank of an overflowing river-Jason Brooks

 

Pull bait divers and plugs.

By keeping your baits in front of fish for an extended period of time your catch rate increases. But in high and off colored water the fish can be moving so this makes it hard to cast and drift-fish “slots” where the fish might only hold for a brief period of time. Using Brad’s bait divers or pulling plugs means you can keep the bait or plug in the zone for a long time and entice holding fish as well as intercept moving fish.

Bait Divers and Pulling Plugs are very productive ways to fish in high water-Jason Brooks

 

Increase the profile of your lures and baits.

Fishing pink worms, either under a float, bobberdogging, or drift fishing has become a staple for winter steelheaders. Most of the time a 4-inch worm is preferred but when the flows bring turbid waters upsize the worms to a six-inch one. You can add some “flash” by putting a bead under a Mack’s Lure Smile Blade at the front of the worm and a matching pill float. Medium size coonstripe instead of the small, or a whole sand shrimp with a size 10 Spin-N-Glo are great upsized baits for high water steelhead.

Upsize your gear and add some contrast or flash to pink worms with a smile blade-Jason Brooks

 

Double-up the terminal gear.

Anglers who bobberdog often fish a yarnie with a bead trailer. When fishing high water this is a great technique to use so if a steelhead misses the first bait then the second one is trailing right behind and the fish capitalizes on the opportunity. Floating jigs also allows you to use a “dropper” with a trailing bead pegged a few inches from a Gamakatsu wide-gap hook. Steelybeads are a local company from Vashon Island, WA and each bead is hand painted. This assures the angler that each bead is not only the color you want but that it is free from any defects as they are all inspected, one at a time. With the off-color water increase the size to a 12mm or even a 14mm.

The author “doubled-up” on steelhead by using a yarnie trailed by a bead-Jason Brooks

 

Scent it up.

Steelhead anglers like to use scents and cures to entice a bite. Garlic, Bloody Tuna, Shrimp, or any other “flavor” is a personal choice but steelhead like sweets and Anise should always be at the top of any steelheader’s list.  Water soluble oils work great for yarnies and jigs but when the water is high it is best to use a scent that sticks and won’t wash off quickly. Pro-Cure’s Super Sauce will stay on even in high flows. Don’t think it’s just for the bait. You can disperse more scent if you smear it on your hook, rub it on the leader, and your weight.

Rob Endsley with a hatchery steelhead that bit after using some Pro-Cure Super Sauce-Jason Brooks

 

When the water is high and muddy look for fish to hold in soft waters and current breaks. Fish these places to increase your catch ratio and don’t let the weather forecast keep you from hitting the river. Even if flows are too high to drift boat or use a jet sled, a day out hiking along a riverbank can lead you to new places and a day out fishing when nobody else is on the river.

Jason Brooks

The Outdoor Line Blogger

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

 

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.

 

Recent coastal razor clam digs excellent and San Juan Islands chinook fishery off to a good start

Diggers search for razor clams at Mocrocks as the sun sets on the western horizon. Photo by Mark Yuasa.

Razor clam diggers who rang in the New Year by hitting coastal beaches had plenty of celebration time with excellent digging success.

“It was good digging on just about every beach, and people were having a wonderful time,” said Dan Ayres, the head Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal shellfish manager. “I was out both nights (Dec. 31 and Jan. 1), and took my daughter out on New Year’s Day to Mocrocks, and we were back at the truck in 20 minutes with our limit of clams.”

Ayres noted razor clams at Mocrocks were nice in size, and folks were able to dig just before it got dark since the low tides occurred prior to sunset.

Turnout 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 that we had more than 24,000 diggers on coast (on Dec. 31), and great news 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.”

During the most recent digs 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).

Chinook is hot topic this month in islands

The hatchery chinook fishery is off to a decent start in the San Juan Islands with plenty of larger-sized fish.

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

“My take is a lack of sub-legal chinook (fish under the 22-inch minimum size limit) compared to the last few years, which is good to keep the encounter rate down,” said Derek Floyd, owner of Anglers Choice Fishing Charters in Anacortes, who has fished the islands every day since it opened on Jan. 1.

“That means the chances of catching a fish over 22 inches is a lot higher, which is really positive,” Floyd said. “There are lots of fish in the usual suspect spots, and we’ve caught quite a few in the 10 to 15 pound range. But, remember just because you caught them in one place doesn’t mean they’ll be there the next day.”

The San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) is open through April 30 for hatchery chinook, and offers some awesome scenery and wildlife viewing that closely resembles southeast Alaska’s coastline.

Anglers this past week have been scoring catches of hatchery chinook, 8 to 15 pounds, off 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.

This past weekend 102 boats with 334 anglers hit the water of the San Juan Islands for the Resurrection Salmon Derby – part of the NMTA’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series.

In all, 50 hatchery chinook over 6 pounds (40 were checked-in Saturday and 10 on Sunday) were weighed-in. The winning fish was caught by John Squibb weighing 18.28 pounds and worth $10,000 plus $6,400. Not bad for a couple of hard days work on the water! Second place was Keith Hoffcamp with a 17.72 fish and a $2,500, and third was Darrin Small with a 16.34 fish worth $1,500.

In all most fish averaged a nice 9 to 10 pounds with good fishing found throughout the island chain, and sub-legal fish weren’t that abundant, which is good news for keeping the fishery carrying on. Weather on Saturday was good, but fishing conditions due to winds were tough on Sunday.

Next up is the already sold-out Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Jan. 18-20. This will be followed by the Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 8-10. Derby details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/derbies/.

Many are also eagerly awaiting the Jan. 16 opener of northern Puget Sound (Area 9), and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) could also open on the date and will be determined after WDFW staff and the sport-fishing advisory board meet on Jan. 11.

All three areas experienced a set-back in November when the chinook encounter rate for sub-legals skyrocketed, and often makes or breaks if anglers can fish for hatchery-produced salmon.

My sage advice is to go sooner than later, which will likely guarantee you more time on the water to catch hatchery chinook.

Go to places in Area 9 are Possession Bar, Point No Point, Pilot Point, Double Bluff off southside Whidbey Island, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Foulweather Bluff and Craven Rock.

Closer to Seattle is central Puget Sound (Area 10) has been generating fair action at places like Southworth, Allen Bank off Blake Island, Manchester, Rich Passage, West Point, Jefferson Head and Point Monroe. The closure date for 10 is Feb. 28.

Lastly, don’t overlook, south-central (Area 11), Hood Canal (Area 12) and southern Puget Sound (Area 13), which are all open now through April 30.

Further down the salmon fishing pipeline are 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

 

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