Morning glory

Winter blackmouth season opens locally with good catches

It was like the old days, Wednesday on Possession Bar.

Like the days when blackmouth fever ran rampant through the sportfishing community and the only way to treat the dreaded and incurable disease was to take to the winter water, fishing rod in hand.

Well, maybe not quite like the old days.

We counted 46 boats on the southwest corner of the "outer" bar during the choice morning tide change. On opening day of some past winter chinook seasons, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see 100 or more but, the shape of our salmon runs considered, and the fact that it was a workday morning, four dozen boatloads of avid anglers wasn’t bad.

And if the attendance at the Nov. 1 opener for winter salmon on most of Puget Sound didn’t quite measure up to seasons past, the fishing most certainly did. Action wasn’t just good, it was smokin’. For a couple of hours you could look in any direction and see three, four or more landing nets bringing salmon aboard.

The radio crackled.

"You doing any good Phil?"

"Not much; couple of shakers."

"Come on out here, Phil." "Why? You hittin’ some?"

"Just shut up and come on out here, Phil."

Another voice came on. "Man, I’ve played eight to the boat and lost four or five others. If it’s this good now (about 8 a.m.) what’s it gonna be like at the tide change, when it should really get hot?"

Others came on, sniffing around like hounds on the scent.

"You hooked eight already? Keepers?"

"Most of ‘em. Some just an inch or so under."

"What you got in the water?"

Silence.

"Come on, what you got in the water? Can’t be more than 80 or 90 guys listening in."

"Coyote spoon."

You could almost hear the rattle over the water as anglers pawed frantically through tackle boxes for one of the popular lures.

But it didn’t really make much difference what you put down behind the ‘riggers — spoons, plugs, herring, Grand Slam bucktails — almost anything took fish. Many were undersize shakers, and most were not huge fish, but the 5- to 7-pounders that most anglers were keeping were prime, fat, healthy, feeder chinook which would be a delight on anyone’s table.

One radio voice reported a 15-pounder in the box, but that was the only large fish in the rumors.

Two hours into the morning, engines started rumbling and boats started heading for the barn, one-fish limits aboard for all hands. By 10 a.m., the fleet had thinned to half, and a great morning on the water was drawing to a close.

The winter blackmouth fishery in this area has almost always been an underappreciated one, and that’s too bad.

It remains a dependable recreational resource, even in the face of closures and severe restrictions on spring and summer salmon fisheries. It’s close, it’s available, and the fish themselves are near the top of the table-quality list in many anglers’ opinion.

Much of the fishery is based on hatchery chinook raised by the state Fish and Wildlife Department and held in special rearing programs around Puget Sound long enough to curb their instinct to head for the open Pacific. Some three million chinook from the current program are out there, waiting for lunch.

There’s plenty of elbow room in the winter and, if you dress for it, the weather is often brisk but thoroughly enjoyable. Pack a solid lunch, fill a Thermos with your choice of good, hot, bone-warming stuff, and get outdoors.

No boat? No experience? New to the area? No sweat.

A number of good charter fishing outfits in the Everett/Edmonds area are waiting for your call and ready to teach you how to enter into salmon angling, Northwest style. They have tackle, bait, licenses, and everything else you need to fish legally and safely at Possession Bar, Point No Point, the shipwreck, Hat Island, Columbia Beach, Baby Island, and all the other spots within easy reach of the urban centers.

Charter personnel here enjoy teaching newcomers the skills they, themselves, love so much. Family groups are more than welcome, with women making up perhaps a quarter to a third of charter customers now, and increasing. And yes, the boats have private, indoor, toilet facilities.

A charter trip would make a great Christmas gift for someone. Check the yellow pages under "Fishing Guides and Parties," ask for recommendations at local tackle shops or marinas, or call the Puget Sound Charter Boat Association at 425-252-4188 for a list of members.

The smaller "six-pack" boats use trolling equipment and normally fish three or four anglers. The tab for a day on one of these rigs is somewhere in the $120 to $135 range, per person, and they will "make up" parties if a single or double wants a charter. Larger "mooching" boats, the old Westport-type arrangement, can fish up to 12 to 25 anglers, each working his or her own bait or jig, and the fee is somewhere in the $85 range.

Most of Puget Sound is open for winter blackmouth through the end of the month, and this period will most likely provide the best fishing of the winter. Limits vary, but in Marine Area 9 (including Possession Bar) the limit is one chinook, 22 inches minimum. The season closes Nov. 30, and reopens on Feb. 16.

Our local Area 8-2, which includes Port Susan, Port Gardner, Saratoga Passage north to Camano Island State Park, and Possession Sound south to the Possession Point/shipwreck line, is not open for blackmouth this month. It will open Feb. 16 to a one-chinook limit.

PHOTO CUTLINES:

I had two photos scanned Thursday for this piece:

Don Jordan of Everett brings his first blackmouth of the 2000 winter season aboard Wednesday morning, on Possession Bar. Great weather and a lot of salmon made for a memorable day on the water.

A good crowd greeted opening morning of the winter blackmouth season on Possession Bar, including successful local anglers Tom Regney (toward front of boat), Kevin Coughlan (in the middle), and Wayne Witsoe (toward the stern, without fish).

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