The weather was poor, there weren’t a lot of large blackmouth around, and participation was down, but, hey, that’s salmon fishing in Western Washington in February. The Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby last weekend reverted from last year’s great weather to the kind of conditions that earned the event its nickname, “The Ironman Derby.” Those conditions were the same for everyone on the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and some folks still went out and caught fish. Particularly those with larger boats.
One of the few bright spots was the first-place chinook of 20.7 pounds, truly a beautiful salmon and well deserving of the $10,000 top prize for Danny Davis of Anacortes. That fish probably would win nine out of 10 derbies in the area.
Davis is a commercial fisherman and his boat was large enough to challenge the rough water conditions out around Smith Island.
One indication of how bad conditions were on Friday and Sunday is the fact that 12 of the top 14 fish were caught on Saturday, when the weather turned at least decent. A total of 63 blackmouth were weighed over the three days, compared to 292 fish last year, and some 760 tickets were sold, about 100 fewer than sales for the 2015 event.
Weights dropped quickly after the big cash winner. Second place, at 15.36 pounds, was won by Ronald Gustafson of Port Angeles; third by Quinn Bodie of Blaine at 13.8 pounds; and fourth by Ken Imamura of Sequim at 13.7 pounds.
Of the 63 fish weighed, just two were caught by fishermen from this area. Mike Surdyk of Snohomish placed 14th at 11.1 pounds, and Ray Lampers of Granite Falls 35th at 8.85 pounds.
The best water was Marine Area 6, where 11 of the top 15 fish were caught. Anglers who fished there launched about equally from Gardiner, Port Townsend and Sequim, and derby coordinator Barry Wood said Discovery Bay and Protection Island seemed to be the most productive destinations.
The weather forecast was certainly a factor in the lower number of both derby participants and blackmouth weighed in, but so was the cut in the daily chinook limit for Area 6. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife dropped the limit from two fish to one shortly before the derby. It also didn’t seem to help that the event moved from its usual spot, President’s Day weekend, to the weekend following. An effort to be sensitive to Valentine’s Day and family responsibilities appeared to backfire, although the idea was noble.
All things considered, Wood pulled off a successful event, but there likely will be discussions about moving the derby back to its usual time slot.
Closer to home, All Star Charters skipper Gary Krein in Everett said blackmouth action in Marine Area 9 picked up over the weekend and early this week. Krein said the largest fish his operation boated was a 12-pounder, and that three others ran between 10 and 12 pounds.
“These weren’t starving fish, either,” Krein said. “They were all in great shape and had obviously been feeding well. And we were marking other fish on the bottom.”
Possession Bar and Point No Point were the two places to be, Krein said, weather permitting and depending on the tides. He recommended small Coho Killer or 3-inch Kingfisher Lite spoons for Point No Point, and larger, 3.5-inch Kingfisher Lite spoons on the bar, in greens or Irish cream. Fish close to the bottom in 100 to 150 feet of water, he said.
Hot walleye action
State Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel seldom use superlatives when describing fishing or hunting opportunities, but a creel checker on the Columbia River called walleye fishing on The Dalles and John Day pools “outstanding.” Angler contacts over the weekend showed almost four walleye per rod for boat fishermen on The Dalles pool, with the John Day pool a step below that but still very good.
Launch ramps on The Dalles pool start just above The Dalles Dam; then upriver at Celilo on the Oregon side; one on the Deschutes River on the Oregon side; one on the Washington side at Maryhill State Park; and one in a Corps of Engineers park just below John Day Dam.
State fish biologist Dennis Gilleland said the best fishing appears to be from Maryhill Park east along Highway 97. The Dalles pool is roughly 24 river miles long, he said.
Action on steelhead is picking up on the Cowlitz as the river clears from heavy rains earlier, according to state biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. “Both effort and the steelhead catch is increasing near the trout hatchery, with bright 8- to 10-pound fish reported,” he said.
Remember also that it’s just about time for the spring chinook fishery on the Cowlitz to break loose. The state forecast is for a strong run this year, at about 25,000 fish, compared to a 2015 forecast of 11,200 fish and an actual return of just under 24,000.
Columbia Basin forecasts
The run-size predictions on the Kalama and Lewis also are up, although not as dramatically as the Cowlitz. The same situation exists at the mouth of the Wind River and Drano Lake, where forecasts are for a couple thousand fish more than last year.
Predictions for summer chinook, the fish that provide the popular fishery at the mouth of the Okanogan, called for 73,000 fish last year and are forecast at 93,300 this year. The prediction for bright fall chinook, the quarry on Hanford Reach in September and October, is much stronger than the 10-year average and possibly the fourth-highest return on record.
Sockeye are another story. The Wenatchee River segment of the run was predicted at 106,700 last year, and just 57,800 this year. The downgrade on the Okanogan River segment is even worse — 285,500 forecast last year and 41,700 this year.
Women and waterfowl
Washington Outdoor Women are back this year with their popular Introduction To Waterfowling program for women 18 and older. The event is scheduled for March 19 at a private hunt club near Monroe. The registration fee of $120 includes all instruction, equipment, shotguns, ammunition, clay targets, breakfast and lunch and a WOW T-shirt. For more information, visit the WOW website (www.washingtonoutdoorwomen.org) or call 425-455-1986.
Women will learn about the tradition, techniques and ethics of hunting waterfowl from certified instructors and experienced hunters. Topics covered include shotgun patterning and shooting moving clays, setting decoys, duck calling, the use of blinds, and understanding why a retriever is such an important partner in the hunting experience. The day is a hands-on learning experience and requires a lot of walking over actual duck hunting terrain. No hunting license is necessary.
For more outdoor news, read Wayne Kruse’s blog at www.heraldnet.com/huntingandfishing.