By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald
Last summer’s recreational crab season in Puget Sound was not only the first under new and much more liberal regulations, but it was also a year of unusually high Dungeness crab numbers in most areas. The result was a red-hot, full-blown Bonanza. A pot-puller’s feeding frenzy. A crab fishery such as hasn’t been seen around here since way, way back.
So how do you follow an act like that?
You don’t, perhaps, but that’s not to say you should leave your gear in the garage when the 2012 season opens Sunday.
State crab managers say this year should again be very good, and that Dungeness populations are again abundant, but that at least in some spots — including our own marine areas 8-1 and 8-2 — it will be difficult to equal the level of Summer Crabbing 2011.
State biologist Don Velasquez in Mill Creek said some of the better areas should include Crescent Harbor, on Whidbey Island near Oak Harbor; the area east of Polnell Point; the north end of Camano Island; almost all of both sides of Saratoga Passage; much of Port Susan, and the Everett-Edmonds shoreline.
Velasquez said that popular Utsalady Bay on the north end of Camano Island, a recreational reserve in recent years, is no longer a negotiated non-commercial area.
And, he said, because of tribal commercial fishing patterns, Area 8-2 (from roughly Camano State Park south to Possession Point) may be a better bet than Area 8-1 (the north half of Saratoga passage up to Deception Pass).
“The tribes opened in Area 8-1 on June 21 and will close on the 29th,” he said, “while their fishery in 8-2 occurred earlier in the month. That may have given crab populations in the southern portion of our local waters time to come out of the mud and/or to recruit from surrounding waters to a degree.”
Velasquez said the department “always gets a lot of heartburn about the tribes opening first,” but that it’s a Fish and Wildlife Commission decision and a mechanism to keep the 50-50 split mandated by the federal government in place.
“Among other things,” he said, “it makes it easier to set solid, dependable recreational seasons with dates crabbers can plan ahead for.”
Outdoor talk show host Tom Nelson (ESPN 710 Radio, Saturday 6-8 a.m.) said a new/old bait is the latest hot item in the recreational crabber’s arsenal. New to the rec scene, but used by commercial crabbers for years, Nelson said.
“Save and freeze your leftover herring, or jig it, or find another cheap source of some kind,” Nelson said. “Using a common manual meat grinder, grind the frozen herring and fill mesh bait bags. Then, soak the bait, bags and all, in Pautzke’s Shrimp and Crab Fuel, and freeze. Put the bait, frozen, into your trap and, as it thaws, it practically explodes with scent trail. Really great results.”
Nelson said shrimp fishermen picked up on the benefits of this paste-type bait sooner than crabbers, but added that it works well for both.
All but one marine area (the San Juan Islands, Area 7) will be open to recreational crabbing for the summer season July 1 through Sept. 3 (Most of the San Juans, July 15 through Sept. 30), Thursday through Monday each week. A major exception is that the season gets under way with a two-day opening, July 1-2, and will be closed July 3-4 before reopening on its regular weekly schedule July 5.
More information on the crab fishery is available on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/crab.
The fishery is heavily monitored, but one regulatory factor the fish cops are looking for particularly is whether fishers have entered crab on their catch record cards immediately upon boating.
Baker Lake opens to sockeye fishing July 1, but there won’t be enough fish in the lake to warrant the effort until mid-month or so. “A rule of thumb,” said Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington, “is 4,000 to 5,000 fish transferred to the lake from the trap below Baker Dam. You can monitor the numbers by visiting www.wdfw.wa.gov and typing in baker sockeye.”
Meanwhile, anglers on the open portion of the lower Skagit River are catching sockeye despite two feet or less of visibility in a river high and dirty since the opener, John said.
“They’ve actually been doing a lot better than we had anticipated, considering the conditions,” he said.
The river was at 21-plus feet Monday, he said, and the Gardner launch in Burlington was closed until the water drops to 19 feet or less. That left the Edgewater Park launch in Mount Vernon and the City of Sedro-Woolley ramp off River Road open to boaters.
Boat plunkers have been doing pretty well in the Burlington area, from the train trestle upstream, and again up around Sedro Woolley. The Young’s Bar area in downtown Mount Vernon also has been putting out fish.
Stay very shallow, tight to shore, in 2 to 6 feet of water, and plunk a Spin N Glo or Flash N Spin with a piece of shrimp.
What almost certainly will be a record Columbia River sockeye run continues to pass Bonneville Dam, according to state biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver, Wash. Two daily records were set Monday and Tuesday, when 38,750 and 41,570 were counted over the ladder, respectively, eclipsing the previous record of 30,690 that was set on June 24, 2010.
A record 462,000 sockeye are forecast, 431,300 headed for the Okanogan and the balance to the Wenatchee and Snake. The Wenatchee forecast is 28,800 fish and biologist Travis Maitland in Wenatchee said if that many are counted over Tumwater Dam, and 23,000 subtracted for spawning escapement, it would leave enough fish to probably open a recreational season.
Maitland said counting at Tumwater usually starts in mid-July and the peak passes in late July. Fishing seasons on Lake Wenatchee have opened in the past in early August, he said.
Marine areas 9 and 10, north and central Puget Sound, open for coho catch and keep on July 1, two-fish limit, hatchery or wild. This is two weeks earlier than usual for Area 9, said All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein in Everett. It offers a chance to not only nail a 2- to 5-pound resident coho or two, but also to scout for chinook ahead of the popular July 16 selective king salmon season, especially in the Port Townsend area.
Krein said silvers should be in the top 60 feet of the water column, and he would look for them around the rips on the southwest corner of Possession Bar, or possibly in the Point No Point/Skunk Bay area. Try a dodger or flasher/squid combo, using a white or other light-colored hoochie.
Upper Columbia chinook, sockeye
Guide Rod Hammons in Brewster (509-689-2849; RandR@swift-stream.com) said the Okanogan River has been running high, dirty and cool, which doesn’t bode well for a “thermal barrier” building and keeping migrating summer chinook and sockeye hanging in the Brewster pool.
“Unless the situation changes, I don’t expect salmon to even slow down at the mouth of the Okanogan,” Hammons said. “And both Chief Joseph and Wells dams are still spilling lots of water which will make fishing at either place very tough, if not impossible. In short, it’s starting to look a lot like last year, which was not a very good season.”