By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald
Chinook usually get the headlines, but according to regulations released recently by the state Fish and Wildlife Department, sockeye may edge out their larger cousins as the stars of this summer’s Western Washington salmon fisheries.
Predictions for a strong Baker River run of the smallish but high-quality salmon have resulted in a new fishing opportunity on the lower Skagit River, June 16 to July 15, with a daily limit of three sockeye. The river will be open from the Memorial Highway (Highway 536) bridge in downtown Mount Vernon, up to Gilligan Creek, about three miles above Sedro-Woolley.
State biologist Brett Barkdull in the agency’s La Conner office said the prediction is for a run of about 35,000 fish, compared to 23,000 last year.
Baker Lake opens to sockeye July 1 through Sept. 4 — two weeks earlier than last year — also with a three-fish daily limit. There may or may not be enough early fish in the lake to warrant mounting a Fourth of July expedition, and Barkdull said interested anglers should monitor Baker Dam counts.
“You want to see at least 2,000 sockeye in the lake before getting too excited,” he said. “Go to the agency Web site (wdfw.wa.gov) and type ‘Baker Lake sockeye’ into the search window.”
Anglers may use two rods on Baker Lake with the proper license endorsement, and remember you’ll need a Discover Pass to utilize the lake’s campground parking.
Most Puget Sound chinook and coho fisheries will be similar to last year, including a closure of Elliott Bay to recreational chinook fishing. Barkdull said Marine Area 7 will be open for wild coho in October again this year, after last year’s closure, and All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein in Everett said the Tulalip Bubble may offer better chinook opportunities by opening a month earlier than usual.
“The bubble will be open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (until noon) each week, starting May 4,” Krein, a salmon fishing activist and participant in the North of Falcon process, said. “The last few years we’ve seen some of those earlier-timed spring/summer chinook taken toward the end of the Area 8 season — the stock the Tulalips are using — and this May opener may give us a shot at a few of those biters. At the very least, it’s a chance for an early spring/summer fishery.”
State spokesman Doug Hatfield at the Mill Creek office said two rods will be allowed in the Tulalip bubble, with the proper license endorsement.
Another interesting local change, Krein said, will be a coho retention fishery in Area 9 this summer, opening July 1. It will give “the Everett guys a chance to catch and keep something during that time period,” he said. “But maybe more significantly, it will allow them to get a feel for where the kings might be prior to the July 16 selective chinook opener in areas 9 and 10.”
Hatfield said the month of October has been added to the Port Susan coho fishery this year. In freshwater, he said, there will be no chinook season on the Skykomish, but there will be a chum fishery on the Snohomish system, Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, with a prediction of 10,000 surplus fish over escapement goals on the system.
On the contentious issue of moving to total catch and release of Puget Sound sturgeon, Hatfield said a compromise will allow two retention seasons in the Sound and its tributaries: June 1-30, and Sept. 1 to Oct. 15. The limit remains one fish, five seasonally, same slot limit sizes.
On the coast, the outlook is for coho numbers similar to last year, but improved chinook fishing. If you’re a coastal charter aficionado, you’ll probably welcome the 2012 quota of 51,500 chinook, some 18,000 more than the 2011 quota.
Strong wild coho returns should provide good fishing in a number of coastal rivers, including the Queets, Quillayute and Hoh.
Grays Harbor anglers will be allowed to retain chinook for the first time in five years, Sept. 16 through Oct. 7, with a bag limit of three salmon but only one chinook. And Willapa Bay fisheries are expected to be so good that two rods will be allowed, Aug. 1 through Jan. 31.
Marine Area 8-2 winter blackmouth fishing has taken a somewhat surprising late-season upswing the past couple of weeks. Charter owner Gary Krein reported good fishing Monday off the south end of Hat Island, and on the “racetrack” — between Hat and Camano Head — over the weekend. He said state personnel checked two 20-plus-pound chinook on Saturday at the Port of Everett ramp, one from Hat Island and one from Area 9.
John Martinis, owner of John’s Sporting goods in Everett, reported the same action. One customer over the weekend, he said, nailed three nice fish, one in the teens and one in the 20s.
Area 9 is now closed, but 8-1 and 8-2 remain open through the end of the month.
Higher success rates should help sell tickets for the 25th annual Stanwood Eagles derby this weekend. The derby takes place in Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2. The entry fee is $50. Tickets are available at Hook, Line &Sinker; Holiday Sports; John’s Sporting Goods; Camano Marine; Elger Bay Grocery; and the Stanwood Eagles. For more information, contact the Eagles at 360-629-3224 or Ed Keller at 425-308-9437.
For more outdoors news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.