By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald
That elephant in the living room this week is the first-ever sockeye fishery on the lower Skagit River, opening Saturday morning to a three-fish limit and a whole lot of interest. The season runs through July 15, between the Memorial Highway (Highway 536) bridge in downtown Mount Vernon and Gilligan Creek, above Sedro-Woolley.
And are there enough sockeye in the lower river to provide a decent opener?
“Looks like it,” said state Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Brett Barkdull. “They’ve been seen jumping. There aren’t any yet in the Baker River trap (as of Tuesday), but that doesn’t mean much since they generally don’t show that high up until somewhere between the 15th and 25th of June.”
Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington (360-757-4361) said steelhead fishermen on the lower river already have taken incidental numbers of sockeye, and sales of plunking gear have been brisk. Water height and visibility will be critical, but the forecast is for reasonable temperatures late this week and little rain, so the outlook isn’t bad for at least opening day.
Most bank fishermen will be plunking, John said, rigged with a three-way swivel or spreader bar, 3 to 6 ounces of pyramid sinker on a 12-inch (8-pound test) dropper and 30 inches of 12- or 15-pound test leader to the lure. Most popular lure choices probably will include a No. 6 Spin N Glo in orange, red or pink, on a two-hook tie, 1 or 1/0, and a piece of sand shrimp. Other anglers will add a mini-hoochie between the wing bobber and the hooks.
Boat plunkers will use the same setup, dropping to 1 to 3 ounces of lead. John said some boaters are planning to back-troll with no weight, using a 2/0 to 4/0 dodger, 18 inches of 25- or 30-pound leader, and a pink hoochie or wing bobber with sand shrimp.
Both Barkdull and John said a crucial point to remember is that while the tackle is much like that used for pinks, the sweet spot in the river may be entirely different. These are traveling fish, and they won’t hold in the deep holes, or the back eddies, or other “soft” water.
“They follow structure, usually not far from shore and relatively shallow, maybe 4 to 6 feet deep,” John said. “The guys are going to have to move around a little to find the right slots.”
Bank access is relatively good in the open section of the Skagit, one of the reasons it was chosen. A popular area runs from the train trestle above the I-5 bridge up to Gardner Bar on the Burlington side of the river, and on the other side, off the South Skagit Highway between Sedro-Woolley and Gilligan Creek.
John said most boaters will be using one of two launches. There’s the county park in Sedro-Woolley (Township Road off Highway 20 at the Dairy Queen, south to River Road, the park will be on the right). There’s also the Gardner launch at the end of Gardner Road in Burlington. A third, just below the Memorial Bridge in Mount Vernon, on the west side of the river (Edgewater Park), will probably be used by boaters fishing the water below Young’s Bar.
John said the Baker Lake opener isn’t that far away, on July 1, and he’s scheduled a free Baker Lake sockeye seminar for June 27, starting at 6:30 p.m. and featuring Cal Stocking of Cause for Divorce Guide Service. Seating is limited, he said, and will probably be taken rapidly. Call to register, 360-757-4361.
The two-week coastal selective chinook fishery opened to tight lines and wet landing nets in Marine Area 2, Westport, Saturday, according to Wendy Beeghley, coastal sampling coordinator for the state.
“It went really well,” she said, “and we saw lots of limits, for both charters and private boats, over the weekend. Sunday was the better of the two, because the weather wasn’t great on Saturday and a lot of boats couldn’t get out.”
Part of the reason for the excellent fishing was that boats located chinook much closer to shore than last year.
“They were in 60 to 120 feet of water,” Beeghley said, “basically just outside Grays Harbor, north and south. That made it a lot easier for the smaller private boats to get to them.”
She said the fish ranged in size from about 7 to 22 pounds, with an average of 10 to 12 pounds.
“Beautiful, healthy chinook,” she said.
Marine Area 1, Ilwaco, opened as well, and a few boats got out Sunday to at least fair fishing, she said, adding that the area off the mouth of the Columbia doesn’t receive as much chinook pressure as does Westport. The season for two hatchery chinook, open seven days a week, runs through June 22 in Area 1 and June 23 in Area 2, then reverts to “usual” summer regulations.
Areas 3 and 4 — LaPush and Neah Bay — open on Saturday and remain open through July 1 under selective regs.
“Commercial trollers did very well along the north coast early on,” Beeghley said, “so I would be surprised if sport fishermen didn’t find kings up that way.”
All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said the Tulalip Bubble chinook fishery remains very slow.
And there’s one more shot at what has been a very good lingcod fishery locally. “The best in a long time,” Krein said. The season closes Friday night, but state checks at the Port of Everett ramp Sunday showed 28 anglers with 6 lings. At the Cornet Bay ramp on the north end of Whidbey Island Saturday, 32 fishermen had 8 lings, and at the Washington Park ramp, also on Saturday, 11 fishermen had 4 lings.
Marine Area 5, Sekiu, remains open for halibut through June 23, three days a week, and fishing has been excellent. Checks by state personnel Saturday at Van Riper’s Resort tallied 39 halibut for 54 anglers.
The 2012 Columbia River sockeye return is predicted by salmon managers to be a record 462,000 fish to the big river’s lower end, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a Lake Wenatchee recreational season. The forecast includes 28,800 Wenatchee stock, 431,300 Okanogan stock, and 1,900 Snake River stock. That probably means another good fishery in the Brewster/Bridgeport area of the Columbia, off the mouth of the Okanogan.
Just about peak of the season for shad fishing on the Columbia at Bonneville Dam right now. Some 188 anglers last week, including those in 23 boats, had an average catch of just under 12 shad per rod.
Almost a million shad have been counted over the dam to date, compared to just 74,000 fish last year at this point in the run.