Lower Skagit sockeye stick to shallow water

  • Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:18am
  • Sports

If you can find a fish or two in shallow water, then it stands to reason you will find a lot more in deep water, no?

And if a short cast results in a strike, then a long cast should really put you out there where the big ones are, no?

No. Or at least not over the weekend, on the first-ever sockeye salmon opener on the lower Skagit River.

All the experts involved — biologists, tackle shop personnel, outdoor pundits — warned prospective sockeye fishermen that these small salmon are travelers. They don’t linger in the deep holes. They don’t expend unnecessary energy fighting the main current. They move over against the bank, in shallow water where the going is easier, and high-tail it upriver.

The creel checks by state Fish and Wildlife Department personnel on the river Saturday and Sunday demonstrated that iron-clad rule: Only 13 sockeye were checked for 107 boat fishermen, mostly anchored out in the middle of the river, while a much more respectable catch of 17 fish was tallied for 76 bank anglers.

“Most folks couldn’t get it into their heads that these fish run in very shallow water — 2 to 6 feet typically — as they shoot upriver,” said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington. “But as the day progressed and the bank anglers keyed in, most of the boaters started moving in tight to the bank and started to pick up a few fish.”

The Skagit was high and off-color on Saturday morning, which didn’t help the success rate any, and by Sunday, with snow melt and more rain, it was pretty much unfishable.

John said high water meant almost no open bars to fish from, so the best shore access and by far the best fishing, he said, was down by the soccer fields in Burlington. The top plunking setup was a number 6 Spin N Glo in pink, red or green, with a single hook and a shrimp tail. A few fish were also taken, he said, by plunkers using red or orange Flatfish.

On Monday the river was up to 24 feet, from the 18 feet on Saturday’s opener, and John said it will take at least a few days to clean up and drop into shape.

Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Brett Barkdull said the learning curve for a new fishery went about as expected, and that anglers should have roughly two weeks of peak fishing available to them in the river, assuming it drops and clears. Activity then will start switching to Baker Lake.

“The sockeye we saw on Saturday were very nice fish, and the run seems to be developing on time and in good abundance,” Barkdull said. “They started showing in the Baker River on Friday, and as of yesterday (Monday) there were about 100 in the trap.”

On a less positive note, WDFW enforcement personnel said about one in eight anglers on the lower Skagit over the weekend received a citation for fishing regulation violations — not a great record. Tom Nelson of ESPN Radio 710, quoting state Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Rich Phillips, said the violations included: using two rods in an area not open to more than one, even with a two-rod endorsement; keeping steelhead in a closed area; keeping chinook in a closed area; not immediately recording a kept sockeye; and fishing without a license.

Nelson said his outdoor talk show, 6 to 8 a.m. this Saturday, will feature Phillips, discussing the Skagit fishery.

Along the same lines, Kevin John said that Holiday Sports’ free Baker Lake sockeye fishing seminar on the 27th is a full house and, because of the overwhelming response, he has scheduled a repeat the next day, June 28th, 6:30 p.m., featuring Cal Stocking of Cause For Divorce Guide Service. Pre-register by calling the shop at 360-757-4361.

Coastal chinook

“The weather threw us a curveball,” said state coastal creel survey coordinator Wendy Beeghley, about the popular coastal early season for hatchery chinook. “The first few days were hot, but then the weather went sour and results since have been spotty.”

The “selective” chinook season opened off Ilwaco and Westport, seven days a week, on June 9, and Beeghley said a very good success rate of about one and a third fish per rod was reported Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of last week, but dropped to between one-half and one-per-rod since then.

The weather forecast for this upcoming last few days of the early Westport fishery (it reverts to the “standard” summer regulations on Sunday, the 24th) looks better and Beeghly expects top fishing.

Meanwhile, the same clipped chinook season opened off LaPush and Neah Bay on Saturday, seven days, through June 30, and Beeghley said poor weather hurt anglers in those two areas as well. Neah Bay was best, with anglers going around the corner to Makah Bay and other spots for a Saturday average of about one-third fish per rod, improving to between one-third and one-half per rod on Sunday. Chinook averaged 10 to 12 pounds, up and down the coast, Beeghley said.

Slammin’ Salmon fishing seminar

Harbor Marine in Everett presents its annual Slammin’ Salmon free fishing seminar June 23, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a lineup of interesting presenters. Jack Bennett will show the new Lehr propane 2.5 and 5.0 outboards, 10-10:30 a.m.; Tom Nelson presents his power point “Dirty Downrigger Tricks” program for local salmon anglers, 10:45-11-45 a.m.; Jack Bennett returns with a Magma Grill, a BBQ demo and free samples, noon to 12:30 p.m.; Richard Baker of Garmin Electronics shows GPS chartplotter, line attachments and enhancements, 12:45-1:30 p.m.; and Fabian Lomas closes things out with new SMI crabbing gear for the upcoming season, how to rig and where to go, 1:30-2 p.m.

Go to www.harbormarine.net, or call 425-259-3285.

For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.

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