So far, the I-5 Skagit River bridge collapse has mostly impacted those saltwater anglers intending to fish the San Juan Islands. But with summer salmon and steelhead seasons -- including the immensely popular pink runs -- either ongoing or imminent in the Skagit, will the bridge situation hinder fish? Or fishermen? Or both?
Probably not, according to the guys at Holiday Sports in Burlington.
"Customers have been expressing concern over any effect the bridge might have on our upcoming fisheries, and quite understandably," Holiday Sports spokesman Kevin John said. "This summer's humpy season looks to be a good one and nobody wants to lose any time on the water.
"Good news, though. At this point virtually all of this past year's smolt have left the river and aside from debris sitting in one of the better holes on the lower river, the bridge should have very little impact on this summer's fishing opportunity. The one issue we will likely run into will be some sort of exclusionary buffer zone around the bridge that will limit boat access to some degree."
If you're coming from the south and intending to fish the islands, John said, you're probably leaving early enough in the morning to avoid problems on any route you choose. Coming through the area at higher-traffic times, he said, the best bets are either Memorial Highway (crossing the Skagit on the old bridge in downtown Mount Vernon) or up through Sedro-Woolley on Highway 9 via College Way or Lake McMurray.
The latest word from agencies tasked with putting a temporary bridge in place is that they hope to have I-5 open by the weekend of June 22-23, well before pink runs build in late July/early August.
Accessing the hatchery chinook season that opened Saturday on the Skagit from Rockport to Marblemount, along with the lower Cascade, is easy. Use Highway 9 to Sedro-Woolley and then upriver, or Highway 530 through Arlington and Darrington to Rockport.
The season opener was a good one, John said. The Cascade is a little too low and clear for best fishing, but it and the Skagit just below the Cascade mouth have been producing kings pretty well morning and evening, for bank fishermen working eggs or shrimp under a float.
"I like to run roe juiced up with SmellyJelly and with a bait weight to keep my gear down," John said. "After daylight, when things slow up a bit, a heavy spoon or flashy spinner retrieved slowly can be deadly. Take a look at Vibrax or Mepps spinners in red or chartreuse."
Big Eddy and Little Eddy, in the Skagit, have put out fish, but have been crowded, as usual.
"Either get there real early, or try 'em late in the day," John said.
Boaters working slots and holes between Rockport and Marblemount are backtrolling with K-14 or K-15 Kwikfish, or a maglip plug in 3.5 or 4.5 sizes. Best color schemes are chrome/chartreuse, chrome/flame red or the "glad clown."
Closer to home, the Skykomish opened Saturday to a mix of steelhead and chinook fishermen, and it was pretty much a madhouse.
Morgan Kruse, avid angler and Sky Valley resident, said it was a huge crowd. He counted 16 boat trailers at high bridge, said no parking was left at the Sultan access, and that the Lewis Street access in Monroe was just about as bad.
Steelheaders at Reiter Ponds did well, however. Kruse said anglers on both sides of the river caught fish, but that the Highway 2 side (across from the rearing ponds) was probably the better of the two.
"The Skykomish opener was excellent," said Mike Chamberlain at Ted's Sport Center in Lynnwood. "From reports, I would estimate that the Reiter/Cable Hole stretch put out at least 50 fish Saturday morning, a mix of summer and winter steelhead. Farther downriver the chinook fishery was at least fair, although probably not as good as it was up on the Cascade."
Chamberlain said several customers remarked that the Skykomish kings are running small this year -- many in the 5- to 8-pound range and only a sprinkling of teeners.
Chamberlain added that the Tulalip bubble, which opened Friday, was slow.
Chamberlain said one of his customers nailed a 130-pound halibut at Salmon Bank on Friday, the last day of the season for the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca. Unfortunately for the angler, he chose a bad news day and was out-hyped by the huge, 225-pound barn door wrestled aboard by Everett resident Woody Woods, in 430 feet of water off Dungeness Spit. It was the last fish of the season, filling out a limit for Woods and his two fishing partners, Pat Vaughn and Ted Measor, on Measor's boat. The weather was so good that they chose to run out from Everett, rather than trailer to Sequim.
The three are all experienced halibut anglers, and Woods said his previous best fish weighed 100 pounds even. He was using salmon bellies as bait this time, and two pounds of lead to get down that far.
"We've fished that general area for four or five years now," Woods said, "but we usually don't go that deep."
Woods, 71, said that at 5-foot-9 he was dwarfed by the 6-3 halibut, and that it took better than a half-hour to manhandle the brute to the surface.
So you clean the huge fish and fillet it, and then whack it into pieces, and then what?
"Luckily Ted has a commercial-grade vacuum sealer," Woods said. "We packaged it in what we estimated were one-meal servings for two to three people, and we've already started sharing it with friends and relatives."
For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse's blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.
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