The salmon season setting process this spring was cumbersome to say the least but remember there will be situations when the only correct thing to do is bear out the troubles until a better day.
My mantra in overcoming obstacles is to take a limitation and turn it into an adventure. This can be done by simply sticking some wheels under your boat and head to where the salmon fishing pasture is much greener.
The coast is expected to be one of those greener pastures and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a decent coho fishery. This summer, an expected 1,009,600 coho (349,000 was the forecast in 2018) will arrive off the Columbia River mouth so be sure the bearings are well greased on the boat trailer for the three- to six-hour drives to Neah Bay, La Push, Westport or Ilwaco.
“We haven’t seen good coho predictions like this for several years,” said Wendy Beeghley, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) coastal salmon resource manager. “You’d have to go back to 2014 to see a prediction identical to this season. How many times have I said that before and been totally wrong?”
All four coastal ports are open daily from June 22 through Sept. 30 or closes once each area’s catch quota is achieved. The daily limit at Ilwaco and Westport is two salmon and no more than one may be a chinook. The daily limit at La Push and Neah Bay is two salmon.
The total allowable sport and non-tribal commercial catch is 190,000 hatchery coho way up from 47,600 last year; and 52,500 chinook is down a tad from 55,000.
Ilwaco has a 79,800 hatchery coho sport catch quota (21,000 in 2018) and a 7,150-chinook quota (8,000 in 2018); Westport is 59,050 (15,540) and 12,700 (13,100); La Push is 4,050 (1,090) and 1,100 (1,500); and Neah Bay is 16,600 (5,370) and 5,200 (3,024).
“With the trends we’ve seen in effort in past seasons I’d be somewhat surprised if we don’t make it through the whole season with the quotas we’ve got although we have done it before,” Beeghley said.
WDFW fishery managers are confident the summer season will likely end on the Sept. 30 closure date before any of the coho catch quotas are achieved.
Another worthwhile location is the Strait of Juan de Fuca where places off Port Angeles have consistently produced some stellar early-summer hatchery king fishing.
Port Angeles (Area 6) west of a true line north/south line through Number 2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook (release chum, wild coho, and wild chinook) and Sekiu (Area 5) – except an area around Kydaka Point – are open July 1 to Aug. 15 for a hatchery-marked king fishery. A chinook release area from July 1 through Aug. 15 is east of a true north/south line through the Number 2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook (release all chinook, chum and wild coho). Then look for coho and pink action to build in Area 6 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 30. The preseason legal-mark encounter for chinook in Area 5 is 8,294 and WDFW ensures it doesn’t exceed 9,953. In Area 6, WDFW will manage the fishery as a season from beginning to end. Freshwater Bay is closed for salmon from July 1 through Oct. 31; Port Angeles Harbor, Sequim Bay and Discovery Bay are closed for salmon from July 1 through Aug. 15.
Anglers can then turn the corner into Puget Sound where some locations will generate some salmon catches for the highlight reels despite a myriad of closures or shorter seasons.
One place will be south-central Puget Sound (Area 11), which opens July 1 (closed Thursdays and Fridays of each week). Last year saw stellar king fishing in early-summer and the hopes are to see a mirror image of that scenario again despite a reduced quota of 2,805 hatchery chinook (5,030 in 2018). Remember, a smaller quota means hitting the Clay Banks and other nearby hotspots sooner than later will guarantee more time on the water.
Also don’t let the June fishing closure in Area 11 stop you from making early season plans since turning the corner around Point Defiance in Tacoma and heading past the Narrows Bridge into southern Puget Sound (Area 13) will be a viable option. Area 13 is open year-round for salmon and has a revamped minimum size limit on hatchery chinook of 20 inches (22 inches was the standard in past years).
“I like to think outside of the box and while we can’t fish our traditional locations (in Area 11) those who put a few extra miles on their boat can run about 15 minutes south to Area 13,” said Art Tachell, manager of the Point Defiance Park Boathouse in Tacoma. “Last year some of our boathouse regulars found great king fishing south of the bridge.”
If the chinook quota is achieved in Area 11 the salmon fishery reverts in Area 11 to being open daily through Sept. 30 for coho and pinks only.
Many will recall last year’s fun times in June for resident coho just outside of the Seattle skyline in central Puget Sound (Area 10), and those will once again come into play when it opens this Saturday (June 1) to July 24. Most of those coho will average 2 to 4 pounds. That will be followed by a hatchery king fishery opening July 25 – later than 2018’s July 16 opener – and closes Aug. 31 or until a quota of 3,057 (4,473 in 2018) is achieved. It then reverts to a coho and pink directed season in Area 10 from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15.
Carl Nyman, owner of Fish Finders Private Charters in Seattle and President of the Charter Boat Association of Puget Sound, recalled the great coho fishing around Jefferson Head in June of 2018 which then moved right into a productive king season.
It has been a few years since the inner-Elliott Bay king fishery occurred, but the roadblock has been cleared this summer for a brief opener Aug. 2 until Aug. 5 at 12 p.m. Additional weekend openings in the bay are possible if in-season test fishing data shows a stronger return.
The hype will also get real when an expected brief hatchery king fishery opens in northern Puget Sound (Area 9) from July 25 to Aug. 15 (opened July 16 in 2018). The 3,491 hatchery-marked chinook quota is well below the 5,400 in 2018 and means the season won’t likely go beyond a week especially if catches are as good as last year. Morning low tides on the first two days of the opener aren’t stellar and then it gets better starting July 27.
Look for the hatchery coho and pink fishery in Area 9 from Aug. 16 to Sept. 30 to offer some excitement. Right now, Area 9 is planned to be closed in October although it could reopen for a non-select coho fishery if the in-season numbers show it’s a possibility, according to Mark Baltzell, the WDFW Puget Sound recreational salmon manager.
Hit the San Juan Islands (Area 7) hard when it opens July 1-31 for hatchery kings. On the downside fishing will be closed in August before reopening for coho and pinks Sept. 1-30. The preseason prediction of legal-size chinook encounters in Area 7 during July is 3,622 and WDFW will manage it as a season from beginning to end.
Summer closures are a common occurrence along the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) although the southern portion from the Mukilteo-Clinton line south and west towards the Area 9 boundary is open Aug. 16 to Sept. 15 for hatchery coho and pinks. This was a great coho fishery in 2018 and hopefully will mirror that again this season.
In June of 2018 the Tulalip Bubble Terminal Fishery within Area 8-2 saw the early arrival of hatchery kings and if forecasts are right on target look for it to be a hotbed when it opens June 1 (closed on June 15 for a tribal ceremonial fishery) through Sept. 2. Fishing is allowed from 12:01 a.m. Fridays through 11:59 a.m. Mondays only. Then it switches to a Saturday and Sunday only of each week from Sept. 7-29. This fishery also started off well during the early part of last year and is likely the result of an earlier timed return of kings to the area and will be something to keep an eye on right from the get-go.
Sockeye returns tend to surprise us both in good and bad ways each summer and hopefully Baker Lake – opens July 6 – and the Skagit River – opens June 16 – will be an eye opener for these good tasting and fun to catch red-fleshed salmon. Monitor the in-season counts at the fish trap on the WDFW webpage to see when it’s time to go fishing. The Baker Lake sockeye forecast is 33,373, down from 35,002 in 2018 (about 32,000 was the actual in-season return) and well below 47,000 in 2017 and 55,054 in 2016.
Look for another late-summer madness when Buoy 10 near the Lower Columbia River mouth opens Aug. 1-20 for adult kings and hatchery coho retention. It then reverts Aug. 21 to Dec. 31 for a hatchery coho directed fishery.
Other options right now include the Skagit from the Highway 530 Bridge at Rockport to Cascade River Road and from Cascade mouth to Rockport-Cascade Road Bridge opens this Saturday (June 1) through July 15 for hatchery-marked chinook. Try a gob of salmon eggs or a sand shrimp and egg combo and do quite well on those. Others will fish with corkies and yarn.
Another location in the marine area that often gets off to a decent early start is the Edmonds Pier where anglers tossing a variety of jigs or a Styrofoam float with a herring drifting underneath often get the fish to bite.
Last year’s early chinook fishery on the Skykomish River from the mouth to the Wallace River produced some fair to good action last year also due in part to an early-timed production at the Wallace Hatchery and this fishery opened this past Saturday (May 25) through July 31. In the past the best time occurred in July but has now switched and the first couple of weeks it is open are best.
The Reiter Ponds area of the Skykomish River also opened Saturday (May 25) for hatchery steelhead fishing and should be a good bet in the weeks to come.
It’s time to start making summer plans as the derby series hits full throttle with the Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 12-14; and Lake Coeur d’ Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28.
The grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston will be making the rounds to each derby. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer.
The boat is rigged with Burnewiin accessories; Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. It is trailered with a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.
There are 15 derbies in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.
I’ve got my fishing plans in the books for summer-time excitement and will see you on the water!