Marine Area 9 opens for hatchery chinook

Small fish saved our collective backsides it seems, as only a reasonable number of undersize chinook (“shakers” in the idiom) were found in Marine Area 9 recently by state Fish and Wildlife Department test fishers. Each time a shaker (or a legal chinook, for that matter) is hooked and released, it’s chalked up as an “encounter” by salmon managers. Preseason negotiations among Puget Sound salmon user groups set the acceptable number of encounters for each identifiable run of fish, and when that number is reached, fishing is shut down.

It’s a quota system of sorts, but it can be skewed by large numbers of shakers in any given area, as it was last year on Possession Bar and other popular spots. Lots of shakers, lots of encounters, short sport seasons or none at all.

But the folks in Olympia have decided there are catchable numbers of hatchery chinook, and not an overload of shakers, in Area 9, so it opened this morning, through April 15, for one hatchery chinook daily. Knowledgeable anglers say the first few days, at least, could be a blast. Area 9 is one of the elite sport fisheries in the Sound.

“It should be excellent fishing, maybe bordering on great,” said All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein of Everett. “To the west you have Area 6, which is currently putting out a chinook per person in some spots and at certain times, and to the north, Areas 8-1 and 8-2, which have been substantially better than usual so far this winter. With that kind of fishing on both sides, Area 9 can hardly miss.”

Krein said most of the fish will be in the 6- or 7-pound range.

The opening was delayed to increase the chance fishing could continue later into the spring, which was the priority sport fishermen apparently gave the department.

“WDFW will continue to monitor the fishery and will work with sportfishing advisors to determine if any other modifications are necessary to achieve a maximum season in Marine Area 9,” said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound salmon manager for the state.

Krein likes the southwest corner of Possession Bar on an incoming tide, where he’ll work in 90 to 120 feet of water with a green Gibbs flasher, 38 to 40 inches of leader, and a Gold Star Kingfisher spoon. Good color patterns include green/white, white and black “cop car,” and the herring aid, in 31/2- or 4-inch size.

Other changes

Marine Area 7, the San Juan Islands, closed Saturday to give salmon managers time to crunch the numbers and see how close anglers are to their encounter limit. They then will decide on a reopening date, which will give fishermen opportunity through the end of the season, scheduled for April 30.

This move is likely to push more fishing pressure onto what already will be a crowded Area 9 opener. Area 10 remains closed.

Another major change cut the chinook limit in Area 6 (the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca) to one hatchery fish daily from the previous two, effective today. That makes an interesting dilemma for participants in the big Olympic Peninsula Derby, which runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, out of Gardiner. They will have to be more selective about the size of the fish they put in the boat.

Hot Plug’s

Ed Keller has set the date for one of the two small, local derbies he organizes: the 30th annual Bill Hayes Hot Plug’s Blackmouth Derby is set for Feb. 25, one day only, in Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2. Cash prizes will be 50 percent of the total entry fees for first place, 20 percent for second, 15 percent for third,and 10 percent for fourth. A cash prize of $100 will be drawn for two ticket holders, fish or no fish, and they must be present to win.

Tickets are $50 per person, available at Stanwood Eagles, Elger Bay Grocery, Camano Marine, Holiday Sports, and John’s Sporting Goods, until 2 p.m. Feb. 24.

For information, contact call Keller at 425-308-9437 or edkeller829@gmail.com.

Springer counted

The first state-authenticated spring chinook of the season was counted at Bonneville Dam over the weekend, according to state biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. The fish was a “white chin” (lower river stock), not a “black chin,” upriver king.

Hymer said Tuesday that the Columbia was high and dirty, with wood and other garbage coming downriver. He said dam operators were spilling water and running powerhouses full bore, but that high water was likely to bring more springers in from the saltwater. The run starts arriving in earnest toward the end of March, and the state will set the season about Feb. 23.

Early springers tend to be larger, Hymer said, in the 18- to 25-pound range, while the bulk of the run will average 12 to 14 pounds. The best early-season fishing is often in the Cowlitz, Willamette and Kalama rivers, and biologists are expecting 17,000 fish to the Cowlitz this spring, a very good run. The Kalama, at an expected return of 3,000 fish, is on the upswing again, but the Willamette likely will be down.

Smelt

As of early this week, the chances of at least a minimal smelt dipping opener in the Cowlitz River looked a little better, according to Hymer, who said the state will come to a decision in probably a week or two.

Sea lions are showing up off the mouth of the Cowlitz, and commercial netters did better last week than the week before, both positives. If an opening is allowed, Hymer said, it probably would be a single weekend day, as it was last year. The 2016 “season” was six hours long, but it drew 16,700 participants who took an estimated 141,000 pounds of smelt (eulachon).

Hunting season comments

The state is soliciting written public comment on proposed 2017-18 hunting seasons. Comments will be collected through Feb. 22. The hunt proposals and comment forms are posted on the Department of Fish and Wildlife website, http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations/seasonsetting. Most of the proposals address special hunt permit levels, but one notable proposal would substantially increase the daily limit of white-fronted and other white geese throughout the state in response to those species’ growing abundance.

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