If you’ve ever wanted to take a charter salmon fishing trip off the coast, now would be a good time. Not only are there more salmon heading toward the Columbia River than there have been in decades, but August on the ocean means better weather and flatter water — the latter an important consideration for those inclined toward motion sickness.
Fishing off the mouth of the Columbia, out of Ilwaco, has been “on fire” for the past couple of weeks, according to Wendy Beeghley, coastal sampling coordinator for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Some of the charters have been coming back with limits by seven in the morning, and there’s no long run involved; the fish are holding just across the bar,” Beeghley said. “The creel checks have been running 1.5 to 1.7 fish per rod.”
Most of those Ilwaco fish are coho, but Beeghley said chinook are starting to show, part of a huge run of fall kings forecast for the Columbia. And the coho are running larger than normal, averaging 7-8 pounds but with a scattering of big ‘uns to 12 pounds or better.
Westport isn’t far behind Ilwaco, Beeghley said, with a higher percentage of 12- to 15-pound chinook in the bag. Charters there, however, have been running 20 to 25 miles for their fish.
Albacore are another possibility. Beeghley said the tuna showed up early this year and are being taken some 35 miles off the coast — an easy charter trip and even within range of the larger private boats. The non-charter anglers averaged about six albacore per rod, and the fish are going 12 to 15 pounds with a few topping 20.
And another interesting fact: There have been a few bluefin tuna hanging out with the albacore — an unusual occurrence in this part of the Pacific.
These aren’t the giant bluefin of the East Coast, the slabs weighing hundreds of pounds and bringing thousands of dollars at the Tokyo fish markets as sushi on the hoof. Ours weigh 10 or 12 pounds on the average, Beeghley said.
More information on activities and accommodations, along with a list of charter operators, is available at the Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce (1-800-345-6223) or www.experiencewestport.com. For charter information in Ilwaco, call the Port of Ilwaco at 360-642-3143.
Speaking of Columbia River salmon, the popular buoy 10 fishery on the bottom end of the big river opened Friday to better than usual fishing. Normally it starts slowly, not really getting underway until the middle of the month, but state creel checks over the weekend showed good results from the get-go. State biologist Joe Hymer in the agency’s Vancouver office said boat anglers averaged close to a salmon kept per boat, with chinook comprising better than 60 percent of the catch. On Saturday, 118 fishermen kept 31 kings and 25 coho, and on Sunday, 126 anglers kept 33 chinook and eight coho. Some 225 boats were counted in the fishery on Saturday morning, Hymer said.
The Cowlitz and the mainstem Columbia remain the top spots in the state for summer steelhead. On the Cowlitz, fishing has been good for a mix of steelhead and chinook at the barrier dam, and steelhead around the trout hatchery. Boat anglers at Drano Lake on the Columbia were checked last week with 1.3 steelhead per rod. However, three-quarters of the fish were wild and had to be released. Good fishing also was reported off the mouth of the White Salmon River.
The state, by the way, has decided to “recycle” Cowlitz summer steelhead again this year, and hauled 199 fish to the I-5 boat launch last week.
The numbers don’t look great for the Baker Lake sockeye run at this point in the season, and state biologist Brett Barkdull said he doesn’t expect it to reach the forecast of 35,000 fish. As of Sunday, the total number of fish trapped at Lower Baker Dam was a little over 13,000, with 6,500 transferred to Baker Lake. No new sockeye have been trucked to the lake for several days now.
On the other hand, fishing has been at least fair at times, and Barkdull said the run isn’t over. He said he expects perhaps another 1,000 fish at the trap, most of which will go into the lake now that broodstock has been taken.
At Lake Wenatchee, a much larger run than expected has provided good fishing, shifting more and more to the upper end of the lake and the mouths of the tributary rivers. State biologist Travis Maitland in Wenatchee said the most recent count at Tumwater Dam on the Wenatchee River brought the total up to about 74,000 fish, an incredible number of sockeye in the lake and well above preseason estimates.
“We could easily see a run of 90,000 fish before it’s over,” Maitland said.
The fish are still in excellent condition, he said, and with that many available, the season almost certainly will not be closed, but will die a slow death toward the end of August or early September as the salmon start to darken and head up the tributaries.
Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood said those with fish locaters might want to stay downlake instead of the upper end, looking for schools fresh in from the river. “Some of our customers have done well that way, and they feel the fresher fish are a lot more aggressive biters,” he said.
On up the Columbia, at Brewster, the “thermal barrier” at the mouth of the Okanogan re-established itself and sockeye are once again holding in the cooler Columbia water of the Brewster pool. “That should provide good fishing through the tail end of the Okanogan run,” Maitland said.
The best fishing over the weekend was on the east end of the Strait, and down the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula in the Kingston area. Checks at Olson’s Resort in Sekiu on Sunday showed 165 anglers with 32 chinook and 105 coho; and at the Kingston ramp, also on Sunday, 120 anglers with 13 chinook and eight coho. Fair fishing was the rule out of Everett, where a Saturday check tallied 384 fishermen with 20 chinook and four coho. The San Juans didn’t show as well, with checks Saturday at the Washington Park in Anacortes showing 31 anglers with two chinook, and 35 anglers at the Cornet Bay ramp with two chinook and one coho.
Mike Chamberlain in Lynnwood said reports indicate the best local fishing over the weekend was from Point No Point south toward Jefferson Head, but that a few nice fish had been taken in the Richmond Beach area.
For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.