By Wayne Kruse Special to The Herald
Organizers of the big Anacortes Salmon Derby are hoping this weekend eases in with better weather conditions than the lumpy crud that greeted last year’s flotilla and was responsible — at least in part — for a depressingly low total weigh-in.
Just 101 chinook hit the derby scales last year, compared to 131 in 2010, and last year’s 18.96-pound first-place winner was a distinct fall-off from the 27.48-pound pig that nailed top money in 2010.
Assuming half decent water, the outlook is good for a return to better derby days. Catch rates in the islands were pretty good over the weekend, as state Department of Fish and Wildlife creel samplers checked 33 fishermen at the Washington Park ramp west of Anacortes on Friday with 13 blackmouth, and on Sunday, 48 with 10 fish. The ongoing Frank Wilson Memorial Blackmouth Derby out of Friday Harbor also sported a new leader Monday, as Gene James assumed top spot with a 22.57-pound fish.
The banks on the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been particularly productive for several weeks, according to Dash One Charters owner/skipper Jay Field, a derby coordinator.
“If the weather’s good enough to allow the guys to get out to the banks, there should be fish available, especially on Saturday’s soft tides,” Field said. “Salmon Bank has been good, along with Hein (stay in Area 7) and Smith Island. But that brings up a hard choice, given that the banks are usually a numbers game rather than big fish producers. Do you run out there and hope to pick a nice one out of the crowd, or stay inside and grind out that big loner?”
Last year’s winner came from Sucia Island, up north, but Sucia has been slow so far this season, Field said. Better bets, in his opinion, would be Tide Point, Obstruction Pass, Spring Pass, West Beach, Point Doughty and Waldron Island.
Field recommends small, red or orange, plug-cut herring, or 3-inch Kingfisher or Coho Killer spoons. Flies would be another good choice for fish that have been feeding primarily on canclefish. He would work “in the dirt” at the standard 90- to 120-foot level, but wouldn’t hesitate to go deeper, or to set one rod 20 feet off the bottom.
Two things to remember this weekend. First, you’ll need the current 2011-12 license for Saturday (March 31), but a new 2012-13 license for Sunday (April 1). And second, the Bellingham Bay closure on Sunday is not particularly significant, except that it also closes Guemes Channel to fishing.
While action in the islands is improving, the best winter chinook fishing remains out on the Strait. Checks at Olson’s Resort in Sekiu on Sunday showed 30 fishermen with 27 blackmouth.
Here’s a list of year-around lakes planted this spring out of the Whitehorse Hatchery, according to state hatchery specialist Scott Meechan: Cranberry Lake (Deception Pass), 3,000 rainbow; Lake Ballinger, 2,000; Blackman’s Lake, 2,000; South Gissberg Pond, 2,500 (at Smokey Point; north pond is juveniles-only fishing); Lake Shoecraft, 2,500; and Silver Lake, south Everett, 4,000 rainbow.
All of these trout were nice-sized, 21/2-to-the-pound fish, Meechan said. The next state plants in this area start April 9, from the Arlington Hatchery.
Shrimp season set
This spring’s recreational spot shrimp fishery in local waters — Marine Areas 8, 9, 10 and 11 — has been set from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 5 and May 11. May 5 is a Saturday, and normally the second day would fall on the following Wednesday. An extreme low tide on May 9, however, forced state shellfish managers to change the traditional setup.
“We didn’t want to leave shrimpers stranded 100 feet from the boat ramp on a low afternoon tide,” said biologist Mark O’Toole in the agency’s La Conner office.
Hood Canal, the state’s best spot shrimp fishery, opens from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 5, 11, 12 and 16. Marine Area 7, the San Juan Islands, opens at 7 a.m. on May 5 and will be open May 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19.
O’Toole said local shrimp fishers have had a two-day season for about the past four years, except that a third day was added last year because windy conditions kept the catch under quota. And even eliminating the extreme low on May 9, O’Toole said, the tides this time are not ideal.
“Unfortunately, we’re pretty much locked into opening on the first Saturday in May,” he said.
Test fishing has shown, however, that the season should be a good one for sport shrimpers, at least as good as last year’s very productive fishery.
The spring chinook catch rate on the Columbia downstream from Bonneville Dam, including the popular Vancouver area fishery, improved to about a fish for each 14.5 rods over the weekend, still what most anglers would consider slow fishing for this point in the season.
“A good catch rate there can get as high as a fish per boat, on the better days,” said state biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “We’re obviously off to a slow start, although the five-year fish which make up the early part of the run are nice kings in the 18- to 30-plus-pound range.”
He said the more numerous 4-year age class, going 10- to 14-pounds, are starting to show in better numbers now, and that catch rates should be steadily improving.
For more outdoors news, visit Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.