Like automobile manufacturers offering “employee discounts” to perk up summer car sales, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has “blue-lighted” the coastal salmon fishery.
Meager crowds and weak fishing early in the year at Ilwaco and Westport resulted in a harvest nowhere close to recreational quotas, so the agency, trying to spark increased interest in the charter-driven fisheries, has instituted liberal new regulations.
Anglers fishing Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco), 2 (Westport), and 3 (LaPush) can now hit the water seven days a week, up from the previous five, and can take home up to two chinook in their daily bag. This alone probably would have increased charter bookings but, coincidentally, a band of warm ocean water recently moved farther away from the coast and fishing has apparently picked up.
“Action has definitely improved now that the warm water has moved farther offshore,” state ocean salmon manager Doug Milward said.
“Our fishery has turned 180 degrees,” said Merle Lundell at Westport Charters. “We’re seeing a lot of two-chinook limits now, averaging maybe 15 or 16 pounds, while the largest weighed so far this week was a 33-pounder. It’s nice to see those heavy fish sacks coming up the dock again.”
At Ilwaco, state checks last week showed charter customers averaging close to two-salmon limits around, on a mix of fish running heavily to coho.
It’s nice to get at least a couple of upbeat reports from the state’s saltwater areas, because a lot of others are developing a decidedly dismal cast. Some examples:
* The Hoh River closed to fishing yesterday because of a very poor return of spring/summer chinook. “To date, the catch by sport and tribal fisheries has been only about half of what we expected,” state biologist Mike Gross said. “We’re going to be hard pressed to meet our escapement goal this year.”
* Sekiu fishing in general was rated “fair” by Gary Ryan at Van Riper’s Resort, although that was based mainly on catches of coho and pinks. The popular selective chinook fishery for fin-clipped hatchery kings, such a success the past two seasons, hasn’t materialized this year. “I wish I could give you a glowing report,” Ryan said, “but the kings just aren’t here. We hit a few a week or so ago, and the guys thought maybe they were finally coming, but it died.” And how about pinks? Are the humpies coming in numbers predicted? Maybe, Ryan said, cautiously. “The few guys actually targeting pinks are catching fish,” he said.
* The Tulalip bubble has pretty much been a disaster for recreational king fishermen this season, at least so far. “It’s been very slow, even by bubble standards,” said Bob Ferber at Holiday Market Sports in Burlington. “Most of the few chinook being taken have been found deep – at 140 feet or deeper, according to reports – which may be accurate, given uncharacteristically high surface water temperatures.” Checks at the Port of Everett ramp over the weekend showed 398 anglers with six chinook.
* The Elliott Bay chinook season has resulted in what is probably a near-record low recreational catch so far, even though it has produced better results recently than the Tulalip fishery. Checks over the weekend at the Armeni ramp in West Seattle tallied 538 anglers with 42 kings.
* A bottomfish closure goes into effect Friday along the coast, outside the 30-fathom line, which will include lingcod and all other bottomfish species. The closure will apply even to humps and shoals – such as the popular LaPush rockpile – which are shallower than 180 feet. The state points out there is a lot of good ling and black rockfish habitat available inside the 30-fathom line, and that the closure is to protect a depleted deepwater species, the canary rockfish. The Pacific Fishery Management Council declared the canary rockfish an “overfished species” in 2000, primarily because of incidental harvest by recreationists targeting other species.
* The Baker River sockeye season ended Monday on a down note. Bob Ferber said the sport catch at the mouth of the Baker was almost certainly below that of the past two years, and closed on a very slow note with little angling effort.
On the other hand, there are some positive opportunities for salmon fishermen, currently and in the near future. The San Juan Islands offer a fairly good shot at chinook right now, on the west side of San Juan Island – Eagle Point, Lime Kiln – James Island, and Hein Bank, among others. Coyote spoons behind a green flasher, trolled at 65 to 70 feet, has been a good rig, Ferber said.
Feisty little resident coho continue to provide a lot of limit action down in Marine Area 10, from Jefferson Head up to the Kingston area, and they’re getting bigger. “These silvers are starting to feed on herring now,” said All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein of Everett, “and they’ve gained a pound or so from the start of the season. They’ll run 3 to 7 pounds or so, and the tide changes are the times to get ‘em.”
More than 200 boats per day have been congregating off the mouth of the Okanogan River in Eastern Washington, fishing pretty good numbers of summer chinook coming up the Columbia. Checks are running about a fish for every three boats, according to the state. That isn’t too bad considering some of these big kings go 30-plus pounds.
Guide and Brewster resident Rod Hammons said he’s been hooking three to five fish per trip, and that a 26-pounder is his largest so far. Flasher/herring and deep diving plugs are all good choices off the Okanogan, he said, adding that the fishery below Wells Dam has also been fairly productive, particularly on the evening bite.
South Puget Sound chinook fishing is a good bet, probably up to the averages of the past couple of seasons. State checks at the Point Defiance Boathouse over the weekend showed 92 anglers with 39 chinook, one coho and one pink.
Biologist Rich Pettit, said sturgeon success rates have been pretty good recently on the lower Columbia, particularly on charters out of Ilwaco or Chinook, running about three-quarters of a keeper per person.
And it’s summer bass time on Western Washington lakes, according to Ferber. He said most local waters holding large- or smallmouth are a top bet right now, well past the post-spawn and with fish taking an aggressive feeding stance. Try topwater stuff, Ferber said, such as buzz baits. Smallmouth are suckers for crankbaits or spinnerbaits now, he added.
“I like Rapala’s suspended series of Shad Raps for both largemouth and smallmouth,” he said, “with perch or crayfish being my favorite. In darker or tannic acid-stained water, firetiger is a good pattern and even though Washington waters are devoid of shad, I’ve had good success using Rapala Glass Shad Raps suspenders in white shad patterns in clearer water. Good sizes are 5’s for smallmouth; 7’s in jointed or standard for largemouth.”