Next up on the salmon scene is the 31st annual Bill Hayes Hot Plug’s Blackmouth Derby on March 24 in Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2, from Possession Point north to Deception Pass. This small derby is a favorite among a lot of local salmon anglers, largely because it’s close to home and the chances of winning a few bucks are a lot better than in most of the larger events.
First place is worth 50 percent of the total entry fees. Last year that was $2,375, won by Blake Wickstrom with a 12.5-pound chinook.
Second is worth 20 percent of the total entry fees; third, 15 percent, and fourth, 10 percent. Additionally, $100 cash prizes will be drawn for two ticket holders, fish or no fish (must be present to win).
All prizes will be awarded Saturday. Weigh-in is from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Stanwood Eagles. For directions, call 360-629-3224.
This is an all-weather derby and everyone in the boat must be entered.
The entry fee is $50 per person (checks payable to Ed Keller) and can be paid at Stanwood Eagles through March 23, and at Elger Bay Grocery, Camano Marine, Holiday Sports, or John’s Sporting Goods until 4 p.m. March 23.
For more information, contact Ed Keller at 425-308-9437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As expected, the Cowlitz River will not open to smelt dipping this year. A commercial test fishery last month in the Columbia showed that smelt abundance is too low to warrant recreational dipping, state fishery managers said.
Laura Heironimus, of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said gillnet boats participating in the test fishery near the mouth of the Cowlitz landed less than 130 pounds of smelt after eight days of fishing.
“That’s well below the 250-pound average daily catch benchmark for opening a recreational fishery,” Heironimus said. “Neither did we see any activity by birds and sea lions last month, which usually occurs during a healthy smelt run.”
Smelt (eulachon) were listed in 2010 as a threatened species from Washington to the Mexican border under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2014, after a three-year closure, the Department of Fish and Wildlife opened a two-day sport fishery on the Cowlitz in conjunction with a commercial test fishery designed to monitor the smelt population. For the past two years, the recreational dip-net fishery on the Cowlitz has been limited to a six-hour period on a single day.
“We know people really enjoy this fishery, but we can’t open it in good conscience knowing the abundance is so low,” Heironimus said. “The smelt population appears to be declining again after gaining some ground, so it’s hard to say whether we’ll be able to open a fishery next year.”
North of Falcon
The North of Falcon salmon season setting process is underway, with some 20 public meetings scheduled through mid-April. Here are four meetings of particular interest to sport fishermen from this area:
March 15: Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Discussion, 7-9 p.m., Trinity Methodist Church in Sequim (100 S. Blake Ave.). A public discussion of preseason forecasts and possible salmon fisheries.
March 20: First North of Falcon Meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium in Olympia (1111 Washington St. S.E.). Parking is available in the visitor lot of the Natural Resources Building (same address). A discussion of management objectives and preliminary fishery proposals for sport and commercial fisheries in Puget Sound and coastal Washington; limited discussion of the Columbia River and ocean fisheries.
March 28: Puget Sound Recreational Fisheries Discussion, 6-8 p.m., Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 4 Headquarters Office in Mill Creek (16018 Mill Creek Blvd.). A public discussion of preseason forecasts and possible salmon fisheries.
April 3: North of Falcon Meeting, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Lynnwood Embassy Suites in Lynnwood (20610 44th Ave. W.). A public meeting to present results of state-tribal negotiations and analyses of preliminary fishery proposals. With public participation, preferred options are developed for Puget Sound sport and commercial fisheries.
For a complete list of North of Falcon-related meetings, visit https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon.
Forecasts of the strength of various salmon runs this summer have been released, and they are pretty much grim across the board.
Roughly 236,500 upriver bright chinook are expected to return to the Columbia above Bonneville Dam, down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.
This year’s forecast of about 112,500 hatchery chinook expected to return to the Columbia is down more than 50 percent from last year. Those hatchery chinook, known as “tules,” are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.
Some 286,200 coho are projected to return to the Columbia, down nearly 100,000 fish from last year.
A lower return of coho and chinook to the Columbia, combined with a poor forecast of coho returning to the Queets River, likely means further restrictions to Washington’s ocean salmon fishery.
The expected return of 557,150 Puget Sound coho is down about 6 percent from the 10-year average. Very low returns to certain areas, such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Snohomish River, could limit salmon fishing in those areas.
While the 2018 forecast of 227,400 Puget Sound hatchery chinook is up 38 percent from last year, continued low returns of ESA-listed wild chinook to some rivers will limit fisheries this year.