Summer clam assessments showed the best populations of young clams in 16 years, Ayres said, so while average size may be down early in the season, numbers should be the best in a long time.
Clams grow quickly, Ayres said, so if size is a priority, simply schedule your dig later in the season.
Every silver lining has a cloud, and while clam numbers are up dramatically, tides will not be particularly cooperative, Ayres said. In general, the best minus tides and weekends do not match up well this fall/winter, so some digs will be on mediocre tides. The popular holiday digs will be particularly hard to schedule, with no decent tides available at Thanksgiving or on the three-day President's Day weekend, and only a fair tide at New Year's. Christmas is the best shot, with a pretty good tide about a week and a half before the holiday.
"We're still in the process of determining additional fall and winter digging opportunities, but we wanted to give people a chance to start making plans for October," Ayres said, noting that the agency will announce additional digs later this month.
Tentative (assuming checks for marine toxins show clams safe for consumption) digging days, open beaches and evening low tides for the first dig are:
Oct. 13 (Saturday), plus 0.3 feet at 5:41 p.m.; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks.
Oct. 14 (Sunday), minus 0.5 feet at 6:26 p.m., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis, and Mocrocks.
Oct. 15 (Monday), minus 1.1 feet at 7:11 p.m.; Long Beach, and Twin Harbors.
Oct. 16 (Tuesday), minus 1.5 feet at 7:57 p.m.; Twin Harbors.
Oct. 17 (Wednesday), minus 1.6 feet at 8:44 p.m.; Twin Harbors.
Oct. 18 (Thursday), minus 1.4 feet at 9:34 p.m.; Twin Harbors.
Ayres said the best early season digging would likely be at Mocrocks and Twin Harbors beaches, followed by Copalis (third) and Long Beach (fourth). Kalaloch has had problems for about four years, and was opened for just three days last season. Diggers there found fewer than three clams per person, Ayres said, and he holds out little hope for an improvement this year.
The past two years have not been prosperous for coastal clam diggers. Low clam populations resulted in fewer digging days and lower participation, which hurts coastal communities heavily dependent on fishing and clamming tourism.
Ayres said the 2.5 million clams harvested by 195,000 diggers last season was the lowest for both in over a decade.
One point to be aware of, Ayres warned, is that the long, dry summer has dried out the upper beach and approaches, leaving a lot of loose sand where diggers normally expect decent driving conditions.
"We really need a big storm and some heavy surf to pack things down," he said. "Otherwise, we're going to have people stuck everywhere. I have a good four-wheel (drive) vehicle and know where I'm going, but the last run I took I had to cut short because I was right on the edge of getting bogged down."
The state is soliciting public comment, through Oct. 9, on digging days, clam limits and other management options for the upcoming season. See the list of options at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/seasons_set.html, then comment via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hanford Reach chinook
It's peak of the season now for fall chinook on the Hanford Reach portion of the Columbia River, above the Tri-Cities, and Don Talbot of Hooked On Toys in Wenatchee (509-663-0740) says the fishery is evolving.
Several traditional techniques were used for years to take these 15- to 20-pound kings (and a few to 35 pounds) -- vertical jigging with weighted spoons and jigs; casting spoons and spinners; drifting bait, as for steelhead; and, very popular, back-trolling Kwikfish and other diving plugs wrapped with a sardine or anchovy fillet.
Nowdays, Talbot said, over half of the knowledgeable anglers are trolling or backtrolling Brad's Super Baits, a plug-type lure filled with oil-pack tunafish or other bait/attractants. Sometimes the lures are used on downriggers, and sometimes not; trolled or backtrolled upstream or down, depending on the depth of the water and the strength of the current.
Super baits are particularly effective early in the season, Talbot said. Later, more anglers go to fishing straight bait.
"If I were going to fish eggs, I'd put them behind a jet diver and backtroll the slot at the top of the White Bluffs section, on down to the main White Bluffs hole, as one good possibility," Talbot said.
The season is open for fall chinook in the popular Vernita area through Oct. 22, two kings per day. The fish darken fairly quickly, but the quality of the meat stays good for a longer period, Talbot said. There are launches at Ringold and White Bluffs, and rough launching at the Vernita Bridge.
For more outdoors news, visit Wayne Kruse's blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.
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