That's a solid crowd but not a record, Ayres said.
"We have had up to 20,000 diggers on the one New Year's Eve tide alone," he said, "but by Monday this time the surf had come up and it got colder than a well digger's behind, and I think people who had dug Saturday or Sunday said, 'Hey, we've got our clams, let's go party where it's warm.'"
Digging both Saturday and Sunday was excellent, with very close to 15-clam limits around, Ayres said.
"And New Year's Eve next year should be a really big one, if the weather cooperates," he said. "It will be earlier in the evening, for one thing -- roughly 5:15, which diggers prefer -- and it will be a very good tide, somewhere around a minus 1.4 if I remember correctly."
Torrid blackmouth bite
Fishing for winter chinook in the San Juan Islands right now is hot as a festered thumb (there's a phrase those without a pile of years in their backpack have probably never heard before), according to Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington, and the fish are running larger than usual.
"Everybody you talk to has a fish or two or three," John said. "The weather improved and the guys could get out, and they've found a bunch of blackmouth."
All the usual places along the inside of Rosario Strait were big producers over the New Year's holiday, from Point Lawrence clear down to Lopez Flats, Tide Point, Eagle Bluff, Thatcher Pass. Even Fidalgo Head was putting out fish. Nice chinook, John said, a high percentage going 8 to 10 pounds.
Cut plug herring in the red and green sizes is a popular bait, along with Coho Killers or other small spoons in Irish cream or red racer patterns.
State creel checkers at the Washington Park ramp west of Anacortes on Friday tallied 21 fishermen with 9 chinook, and on Saturday, 80 with 36 fish. For a dead of winter fishery, that's not too shabby.
Checks on the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca were even better as flat water allowed anglers to access Hein and other banks. State personnel at the Ediz Hook public ramp in Port Angeles on Friday counted 19 anglers in 11 boats with 20 blackmouth; 38 in 19 boats with 27 fish on Saturday; and 32 fishermen in 15 boats on Sunday with 24 fish.
So there's top winter salmon fishing north and west of us, but that hasn't translated well to local marine areas 8-1 and 8-2, from Deception Pass south to Possession Point.
"Fishing seems to have picked up a little, but the percentages still aren't very good," said All Star Charters owner Gary Krein in Everett. "I'm hearing of a fish or two from south Hat Island, the racetrack and Columbia Beach, and a friend took a 15-pounder at Onomac over the weekend, but nothing very hot."
Surrounding action could bode well, however, for Possession Bar and the rest of Area 9 when it opens on Jan. 16.
Peninsula steelhead unspectacular
Not poor fishing exactly, but not as good as it has been in recent years at the peak of the winter season, either, for steelhead in the Forks-area rivers. State creel checks over the weekend showed 120 anglers on the Bogachiel -- 68 bank and 52 boat -- with 57 hatchery steelhead kept and one wild fish released; on the Calawah, five anglers, all bank, with zip; on the Sol Duc, three bankers and six boaters with two wild fish released; and on the lower Hoh, 39 bankers and 37 boaters with four hatchery fish kept and four wild fish released.
A major change of direction may be imminent for Columbia River salmon fisheries if the nine citizen members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission vote next week to adopt new regulations aimed at phasing out gillnets on the mainstem river.
The new rules, proposed by a Washington/Oregon working group of salmon managers and user-group representatives, would push non-tribal gillnetting to certain estuaries and side channels of the Columbia, away from mainstem wildstock runs and targeting instead enhanced numbers of hatchery fish. If commercials insisted on fishing the mainstem, they would be required to use gear which would allow the non-lethal release of wild salmon.
The plan was put together under the auspices of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and already has been accepted by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. It also gives increased priority to Columbia River recreational salmon fisheries.
The vote will be taken at the Jan. 11-12 commission meeting in Olympia, and most knowledgeable observers feel the plan probably will be adopted. The two states almost always try for regulatory consistency in order to make enforcement easier and management more effective.
When the Oregon commission adopted the Kitzhaber plan on Dec. 7, for instance, new regulations required Oregon sport fishermen to go to barbless hooks on the Columbia and its tributaries, effective Jan. 1. The Washington commission has followed suit, requiring the use of barbless hooks when fishing for salmon, steelhead or cutthroat on that portion of the river shared as a boundary with Oregon, also effective Jan. 1.
"Reducing the likelihood of killing or injuring wild salmon and steelhead is especially important on the Columbia River, where anglers are required to release fish from a number of protected runs," said Guy Norman, southwest region director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The "regulatory consistency" doctrine would seem to argue for adoption of the Kitzhaber plan by the Washington commission when the vote is taken, probably Jan. 12.
Upcoming free seminars at Cabela's Tulalip store include:
Ladies Intro to Handguns, 1 p.m. Jan. 5, in Cabela's conference center, taught by an NRA certified instructor, covers choosing the right handgun, proper use and care.
Non-Lethal Self Defense, 2:30 p.m. Jan. 5, in Cabela's conference center, covers non-lethal methods to protect yourself and family, tasers, pepper sprays, and more.
Support for wolf plan
It will surprise no one, but the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council on Dec. 21 issued a letter supporting the state's wolf management and recovery plan, including the lethal removal of the Wedge Pack late last year. The council is centered in Spokane and is primarily a hunting-oriented organization.
The council particularly approved of what it called "key objectives:" Defining management strategies to downlist and eventually delist wolves in Washington; and defining management strategies to address and reduce wolf conflicts with livestock and ungulate herds.
The letter says "the plan adequately addresses the council's primary concern of conservation of Washington's big game herds."
The letter was issued by the council's board of directors, and goes on: "We commend the WDFW on staying true to their wolf management plan, even though some of their decisions have been adamantly opposed by the public and various outspoken groups. We support the WDFW's extremely difficult decision, and we believe the WDFW is on the right path to maintain state ungulate, livestock, and wolf populations."
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