Ocean Salmon-Angling Prospectsby Greg Johnston
The ocean off Westport opened to recreational salmon fishing Sunday, perhaps providing a preview of what might be a very good chinook season when other ports along the Washington coast open tomorrow and this Sunday.
Marine area 2 opened slowly but has improved each day since Sunday, at least for chinook. By Tuesday, many boats, both private and charter, were limiting on chinook, some of them "kings" better than 20 pounds. Coho, however, are still scarce off Westport. That might not be too surprising since state pre-season run forecasts envision above-average chinook returns this year, but below-average coho returns.
"We started out really slow, but we're getting our chinook now, mostly in the high teens to twenties," said Kevin Vassereno, skipper of the Westport charterboat Gold Rush. "The coho so far are no-shows, but they'll get here."
Most of the fleet located the chinook 15 to 18 miles north of Westport, well offshore and running deep.
"Chinook are pretty accessible if you get down deep and go way out," said Wendy Beeghley, a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist who manages the state's coastal catch sampling program. "They're fishing out and north, about 120 feet deep in about 200 feet of water. The coho are just about nowhere to be found."
The northern ports of La Push and Neah Bay (marine areas 3 and 4) open for salmon tomorrow, with a bright outlook for chinook. Marine area 1 off Ilwaco opens Sunday, and that one is hard to call.
Up north, commercial chinook fisheries this month have done well. Chinook landings by tribal trollers were strong at mid-month, and non-Indian trollers did well in a fishery that ended last week.
"I think Neah Bay will be OK," Beeghley said. "The trollers up there had no problems catching their chinook."
Neah Bay had a good chinook season last year, opening strong in late June out on the ocean and inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with a 58.5-pound king boated on July 1 off Waadah Island.
What will be interesting is how Ilwaco and Neah Bay do for coho, considering the dearth of those fish off Westport so far. Neah Bay and Ilwaco are typically hot for coho from the start. Also, this is an odd-numbered year, and in Washington that means it's a pink salmon year. The Puget Sound pink forecast is strong, and its likely those fish will show at Neah Bay and inside the strait later in July.
The turn of the month also marks the opening of the northern inside waters for salmon, with the prime opportunity being a hatchery chinook season in the strait, from the Sekiu River east to Port Angeles. Last year this fishery was good, but most of the fish caught were unmarked chinook with intact adipose fins, which must be released.
Meantime, the Columbia River is already open for summer chinook and doing quite well. Fishing isn't sizzling down there, but these are big, quality kings being taken at various points from Bonneville downstream to Cathlamet.
"Actually, the summer chinook fishery, especially for bank anglers, is probably as productive or more than the spring chinook fishery was this year," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Department office in Vancouver.
Locally, marine area 11 also is open for salmon fishing and slow for chinook, but some kings are being taken at spots such as points Defiance, Dalco and Dolphin. Better reports have come from the catch-and-release salmon fishery in northern area 10, with some anglers reporting multiple-chinook days at Point Monroe, Jefferson Head and Kingston. That shifts to a regular salmon fishery tomorrow, but chinook still must be released.
Parts of the Skagit and Skykomish rivers also are open for chinook, but slow.
Steelhead fishing is slow everywhere but in the lower Columbia and some of its tributaries. The big river from Longview downstream to Cathlamet was actually very good last week. That's mainly a "plunk," or still fishery, from the bank and by boat, with anglers typically using Spin 'n Glo bobbers and baits, such as sand shrimp or salmon roe. Spots fished include the Willow Grove and Abernathy Creek areas near Longview, Countyline Park downstream, Puget Island and the Skamokawa area. Of the tributaries, the Kalama has been the best, but the Cowlitz has improved some and the Lewis also is producing some summer-runs.
Steelhead fishing is slow everywhere else, but a few steelhead are being taken in some rivers, including the Snoqualmie and Skykomish.
Quickly: Crabbing opens tomorrow in many key areas of the inside waters, including Hood Canal, the Mukilteo-Everett area, Saratoga Passage, the Port Townsend region and part of the San Juans. The daily limit is now five males, and crabbing is closed Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. ... Sockeye salmon are moving into Lake Washington, but so far not in the numbers that might allow a fishing season in Lake Washington. Through Monday, only 11,911 had made it through the Ballard Locks, compared with 72,876 for the same period last year, when a short season was opened.
You can track the salmon run here: www.cbr.washington.edu/dart/adult.html.
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