REEL TIMES WITH MARK
Dear winter blackmouth: The relationship anglers had for so many decades were truly unforgettable but for the moment it is time to move on. It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for those who enjoyed spending time with you on the water. To say the least it was “complicated.” When you exited the salmon season setting process door on April 10, it hurt deeply and thoughts of the “good old days” came flooding back filled with joy, sorrow, success and defeat.As with any “break up” the blame points to a myriad of issues like declining Stillaguamish, Skagit and mid-Hood [...]
No doubt COVID-19 and the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order has drastically altered our daily lives but it’s also created difficulties in the ongoing topsy-turvy salmon fishing season setting process. While we should know the fate on what’s open or closed in 2020-2021 by April 9 or 10, each user group has been weighing options while focusing on conserving wild salmon stocks of concern – a number of which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Other issues are declining southern resident killer whales, expanding marked selective fishing, boosting hatchery production and habitat restoration. At the latest North of Falcon teleconference [...]
I love March! And why, might you ask, do I have this “hug fest” during a timeframe when many are still climbing out of a winter funk? Let’s see, I’m turning to page 105 to 123 of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulation pamphlet, and wow, it shows there’s a plethora of saltwater late winter and early spring salmon fishing options. Add to that decent tidal exchanges right out of the starting gate, improving fishing reports, and baitfish schools finally appearing in all the usual places with hungry chinook likely right on their heels. Now you know [...]
The future of the revamped series is just on the horizon with three derbies happening in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is a winter chinook fishing hotspot. They include the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 (sold out but has a waiting list); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000. Other events soon after are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15 with a $10,000 first place prize; and Everett Blackmouth Derby on March [...]
This month marks a time when anglers begin gazing into the crystal ball to see what the 2020 fishing season has in store for halibut, salmon and other fish species. For starters, the good news is halibut chasers can look forward to a more stabilized fishery in marine areas enabling them to make early plans for the upcoming spring season. “In Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California) we’ve moved in a new direction that started in 2019 and goes through 2022 where quotas remain status quo barring any unforeseen issues,” said Heather Hall, a Washington Department of Fish and [...]
The holiday celebrations are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at winter chinook fishing options, including a few that began this month. Central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) are now open for winter hatchery blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s dark gum-line. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30. “There wasn’t a lot of bait around in Area 10 when it was last open (fishing closed on Nov. 12) although we managed to release some bigger sized [...]
May 2020 – Despite a Cloudy Future, Summer Could Be a Beacon of Light
Dear winter blackmouth:
The relationship anglers had for so many decades were truly unforgettable but for the moment it is time to move on. It wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for those who enjoyed spending time with you on the water. To say the least it was “complicated.”
When you exited the salmon season setting process door on April 10, it hurt deeply and thoughts of the “good old days” came flooding back filled with joy, sorrow, success and defeat.As with any “break up” the blame points to a myriad of issues like declining Stillaguamish, Skagit and mid-Hood Canal chinook runs just to name a few salmon stocks of concern.
Even more upsetting is polluted watersheds and a loss of robust habitat; disagreements between co-managers; seals and sea lions feasting on salmon at alarming rates; issues with southern resident killer whales; and recent droughts, flooding and the dreaded “Blob.” To make matters worse, anglers never got a chance to say goodbye due to the current statewide fishing ban tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now all that’s left are thoughts of your shimmering silvery and purplish colors; the warmth you created in the darkest, bleakest of winter days; and most of all what a great sport you were to the 15,000 to 22,000 anglers who eagerly awaited a chance to hook up with you at their favorite fishing holes.
It was by no means an easy job for all those involved in the North of Falcon process who worked tirelessly and made gut-wrenching decisions. “We value the winter fisheries but I think at the end of the day we wanted to try to preserve as much of the robust summer opportunities as we could,” said Mark Baltzell, the WDFW’s recreational salmon manager. “I don’t want to say we (felt) good about making those decisions.”
As a WDFW sport fishing advisory board summed it up, “the closures represent a loss of approximately 24 area-months to sport fishing opportunity compared to last year, the most restricted fishery in history.”
Closed in the winter of 2020-2021 are the eastern Strait (Area 6), San Juan Islands (7), east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2), northern Puget Sound (9), south-central Puget Sound (11) and Hood Canal (12).
Hanging onto a limb are the western Strait at Sekiu (5) open March 1-April 30; central Puget Sound (10) open Jan. 1-March 31; and southern Puget Sound (13) open year-round. “I’m hopeful this is just a one-year anomaly and that we can get things back on track,” said Tom Nelson, host of 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line show and WDFW Puget Sound sport fishing advisory board member. “From what we know the ocean conditions are improving and we’ve had more favorable conditions in the river for young salmon in recent years.” Yes, like Nelson said, hope is eternal and everyone needs to ensure themselves the “break up” could turn into a “make up” in the not too distant future.
Summer Could be Beacon of Light Despite a Cloudy Future
The northern Puget Sound (9) hatchery chinook fishery is open July 16-Aug. 15 with a catch quota of 6,529 up from 3,491 in 2019; and open Aug. 16-Sept. 30 for hatchery coho.
In central Puget Sound (10), a coho only season opens June 1-July 15. Hatchery chinook are fair game July 16-Aug. 31 with a catch quota of 4,149 up from 3,057 in 2019. Fishing stays open Sept. 1-Nov. 15 for coho. Inner-Elliott Bay opens for chinook on Aug. 2 to noon on Aug. 5 but opening is dependent on in-season assessments.
The San Juan Islands (7) opens for hatchery chinook July 1-31 with a quota of 1,541 up from 1,447 in 2019 (may reopen in Aug. 16-31 if quota is not achieved). A coho season is July 1-Sept. 30.
South-central Puget Sound (11) in the Tacoma/Vashon Island area should see a robust hatchery chinook fishery July 1-Sept. 30 with a quota of 4,182 up from 2,085 in 2019. Coho fishing is open Oct. 1-31.
Southern Puget Sound (13) is open year-round and can be decent for early summer chinook, and late summer and early fall for chinook and coho.
In the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Sekiu to Port Angeles (5 and 6) fishing for hatchery chinook is open July 1-Aug. 15 and Aug. 16-Sept. 30 for hatchery coho only. Area 5 catch guideline is 3,974 hatchery chinook (4,636 in 2019), and Area 6 is 4,768 (4,375). South of Angeles Pt./Observatory Pt. line is closed to angling. Pt. Angeles Harbor west of line from tip of Ediz Hook to ITT Rayonier Dock is closed to salmon.
There is a variety of bubble and terminal fisheries as well as piers open year-round for shore-bound anglers. The Tulalip Bubble Fishery is open for chinook June 1-Sept. 2 (fishing allowed Fridays to noon on Mondays only) and Sept. 7-30 (fishing allowed weekends only).
On the coast, Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Ilwaco are open daily for chinook only June 20-28. Then Neah Bay, La Push and Ilwaco are daily for chinook and hatchery coho June 29-Sept. 30; and Westport is open Sundays to Thursdays of each week June 29-Sept. 30. Areas could close sooner if quotas are achieved.
The Buoy 10 fishery at the Columbia River mouth is open Aug. 16-27 for chinook and hatchery coho and starting Aug. 28 for hatchery coho only. The catch quota is 16,280 hatchery coho during August and September.
NOTE: All the planned season openings are based on when the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is lifted. WDFW announced on April 28 that marine salmon fishing will reopen May 5. Other marine fisheries for spot shrimp (expected to reopen May 16), halibut and intertidal shellfish harvest remain closed. All coastal fisheries (Areas 1 to 4) also remain closed with an opening date to be determined. For details, go to WDFW website.
Some Planned Spring Fishing Options Begin May 5
WDFW announced that all freshwater fishing will reopen May 5 and other fisheries like hatchery chinook in southern Puget Sound (Area 13) and lingcod in most areas of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Catch Areas 5, 6, 7, 8-1, 8-2, 9, 10, 11 and 13) will also open on that date. For trout chasers more than 16.5 million trout and kokanee have been planted into 546 water bodies across the state. Some years ago, WDFW devised a cost-effective way to produce larger catchable-sized trout – 11 inches compared to 8 inches – in hatcheries, which has been well-received by anglers surveyed on previous openers. Anglers should find about 2.19 million catchable trout in lakes and ponds. For a list of lakes expected to be planted, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/stocking/trout-plants.
WDFW is also stocking 146,559 jumbo trout averaging more than 14 inches in length and one pound or larger in weight. Adding to that is more than 14 million fry, fingerlings, and put and grow trout that went into lakes during spring and fall of 2019. WDFW still has plans to hold the popular WDFW Statewide Trout Fishing Derby (normally gets underway from April 25 through Oct. 31) that features more than 100 lakes planted with around 1,200 tagged trout. There are over 1,000 prizes donated from more than 100 participating businesses totaling over $40,000.
“We are currently planning on moving forward with the derby and in the process of assigning prizes to lakes, though due to the COVID-19 Stay Home-Stay Healthy order, we will need to delay the start of the derby,” said Steve Caromile, WDFW inland fish program manager. “Last year we had roughly half the tags returned statewide which is a pretty good percentage.” WDFW has created a new online system for anglers who catch tagged trout to report them. Depending on the prize they will either be mailed or picked up at WDFW regional offices by the recipient. Anglers will also be able to share their derby success on social media with the hash tag of #watroutderby. For details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/contests/trout-derby.
Many have been clamoring on when the popular spot shrimp fishery will begin along inner-marine waterways and the plan is to reopen them on May 16. The original start dates depending on the areas was May 3 and May 16. “We’ve been running through a planning exercise in order to figure out what fisheries pertaining to (spot shrimp) would look like and at this point it looks like things will kick off on May 16,” said Aaron Dufault, a WDFW Puget Sound shellfish manager. “Initially we had plans for a staggered opening in certain areas by two weeks and now we need to figure out what our plans will be due to the later start. That could mean we just open all areas on the same date or stagger out the dates by area.” Others in the WDFW agency have also been hard at work with detailing out how fisheries might possibly look once the fishing ban is lifted. The halibut fishery was supposed to open on mid-April and is often regarded as one of the first and most popular fishing opportunities.
“Nothing is carved in stone and we are not making decisions and looking toward our director as to when we could open any halibut fisheries,” said Heather Hall, the WDFW halibut resource manager.
“We recognize there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to recreational fishing reopening in itself,” Hall said. “We are working on ways to provide opportunities in a way that doesn’t deviate far from the governor’s approach to the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy (order).” To reimplement the halibut fisheries is even more complicated as currently Neah Bay and La Push communities are not allowing the general public into their communities. “I’ve talked to folks at the Makah Tribe and as you can imagine it is a scary idea to have this virus be introduced to their small communities and the results could be devastating,” Hall said. “Even if we reopened fishing I don’t think those areas will be open at the same time and will take a more conservative approach.” Hall says their agency has conducted ad-hoc conference calls with sport and charter boat, and port and community representatives to get their feedback. “We recognize that it would be really disruptive to open just Ilwaco, Westport and maybe Sekiu where you’d create a surge in effort,” Hall said. “That would also hurt the northern coastal communities. What I heard from the caller is they really wanted to open all the coastal areas at the same time in fairness. To do that were thinking of pushing the halibut season opening into August.”
The other complication of an earlier summer opener is it would be hard on the WDFW sampling staff to manage a salmon and halibut fishery at the same time. In contrast to the coast there is some interest to get the Puget Sound/Strait of Juan de Fuca halibut fishery open sooner although it would be dependent of the healthy agencies from each of those communities and whether WDFW sampling could function properly with the social distancing rules. “If it is all workable then we could say let’s ‘go for it’ sometime in May,” Hall said. “But with that it does take some planning and we would probably not give the green light to halibut fishing right away. I think we would feel comfortable to open on May 14 (in the Puget Sound and Strait regions).
A Word on the NW Fishing Derby Series
Restarting the 2020 NW Fishing Derby Series remains up in the air but one derby organizer is thinking outside of the box to ensure the safety and well-being of anglers while continuing their events later this summer. Crissy Cooper, owner of West Coast Adventure in Brookings, Oregon, and derby coordinator, has decided to launch three derbies digitally and will work with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), county commissioners and state coastal caucus members on best practices and education. “In an effort to support social distancing we are going digital with remote weigh-in stations at the marinas where we host events,” Cooper said. “This app (wideopenfishing.com) is a great platform to use and we’re hopeful it’ll really build into something strong in the future for our derbies.”
The revamped southern Oregon derbies are the Slam ’n Salmon Derby from June 20 to Aug. 7 in Brookings; For the Love of Cod Derby in September/October with dates TBD; and South Coast Oregon Sport Tuna Classic at Charleston from July 3 to Sept. 7. For details, go to West Coast Adventure website.
The two cod derbies were originally scheduled on March 21-22 and March 28-29, and the tuna classic replaces the Father’s Day Big Bass Classic at Tenmile Lake on June 20-21. The Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19; the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; and the Gig Harbor PSA Salmon Derby on Aug. 8 are cancelled.
A decision on the Bellingham PSA Salmon Derby on July 10-12 will occur at the club’s May 21 meeting. There are thoughts to transform the event to a coho derby.
DATE CHANGE: The Everett Coho Derby – the largest derby on the West Coast – will happen on Sept. 19-20 instead of Sept. 26-27.
Anglers who enter any of the participating derbies have a chance to win the $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat comes equipped with Shoxs Seats, a custom engraved WhoDat Tower, Raymarine Electronics, Burnewiin Accessories, Scotty Downriggers, and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet; Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; The Reel News; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine; and Ray’s Bait Works. Anglers do not need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat package. The series is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating Program which serves a core purpose – to increase the number of boaters in the Pacific Northwest. For details, go to NW Fishing Derby Series website.
I hope to see you on the water soon and in the meantime be safe and wash your hands!
April 2020 – The Impact of COVID-19 on Spring Fishing
No doubt COVID-19 and the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order has drastically altered our daily lives but it’s also created difficulties in the ongoing topsy-turvy salmon fishing season setting process. While we should know the fate on what’s open or closed in 2020-2021 by April 9 or 10, each user group has been weighing options while focusing on conserving wild salmon stocks of concern – a number of which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Other issues are declining southern resident killer whales, expanding marked selective fishing, boosting hatchery production and habitat restoration. At the latest North of Falcon teleconference and webinar public meeting on Tuesday (March 31) some proposed marine and freshwater fishing seasons were crafted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) salmon management team. Cuts by all parties involved will likely occur in the coming days to the preliminary proposed seasons as state and tribal co-managers try to find ways to meet thresholds for predicted low mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish chinook runs and a few other local stocks.
On the summer marine fishing scene, a proposed start date of July 16 was back on the table for the popular northern and central Puget Sound hatchery king season. It would also come with a fairly good bump in the catch quota of 5,067 to 7,067 (3,491 in 2019 and 5,400 in 2018) in Area 9. If you recall last year’s season in both areas didn’t begin until July 25. The coho only fishery in central Puget Sound is also projected to begin on June 1.
The San Juan Islands could see gains and losses depending on what time of the season you like to pursue chinook.
Now with that said there is a chance additional cuts in the proposed seasons would be necessary since the highest percentage of impacts on Stillaguamish chinook occurs in the islands. Stay tuned…
In south-central Puget Sound around the Tacoma area it appears the initial proposed season would begin on July 1 with a bump in the summer hatchery chinook quota. It would also reinstate a coho fishery during October. In order to stay under the take of certain critically low stocks, WDFW also looked at creative ways to meet those criteria like going from a daily fishery to open three days per week in certain marine areas during summer and winter; increasing the minimum size limit on chinook to 26 inches; cuts in area catch quotas; and shortening the amount of time on the water in some areas. On the freshwater end, a low sockeye forecast of 13,000 back to the Baker River system could mean no summer season for the popular Skagit River and Baker Lake fisheries.
Hatchery chinook fisheries are proposed to open June 1 on the Cascade, May 23 on the Skykomish and Aug. 15 on the Puyallup. Click (here) for a list of freshwater – rivers and lakes – salmon fishing proposals.
Three ocean options were also announced at the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meetings on March 5-9. The most liberal ocean option is a quota of 60,000 chinook and 35,000 hatchery coho (32,000 and 172,200 in 2019) with a sport quota of 30,000 and 29,400. Ports open June 14-28 for a chinook only fishery, then open daily or five days a week from June 29-Sept. 30 for chinook and hatchery coho. The middle option quota is 45,000 chinook and 25,000 hatchery coho (27,500 and 159,600 in 2019) with a sport quota of 22,125 and 22,500. Neah Bay/La Push is open June 27-Sept. 13 and Westport/Ilwaco on June 28-Sept. 13. Ports are open either daily or five days a week. The most draconian third option is an entire coastal closure. All options have a Buoy 10 fishery starting Aug. 1 and hatchery coho quotas range from 13,000 to 17,000 during August and September.
There have been poorer coho returns in past decade where fishery managers still created limited summer seasons. This seasons’ forecast is somewhat similar to 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2018. The situation improved in 2013 and was much better by 2014. The Columbia River coho forecast is 268,700, compared to 1,009,600 and an actual return of 408,100 in 2019 (349,000 and 230,700 in 2018). The Washington coastal river forecast is 276,989 (401,655 in 2019 and 270,756 in 2018). The Columbia River fall chinook run of 430,000 (340,400 and 375,700 in 2019). The Willapa Bay chinook forecast is 31,185 (28,100 in 2019). This is a popular inner-bay fishery from August through Labor Day weekend. Fishery managers indicate the 2020 adult coho returnees ventured into the ocean as juveniles and suffered a die-off (most likely related to the “Blob”). The overall Puget Sound summer/fall chinook forecast is 256,821 (38,516 are wild) in 2020, and slightly up from 246,837 (29,796) and 255,219 (27,404) in 2018. The Puget Sound coho return is also expected to see a dip in 2020 with a forecast of 523,498 compared to 708,521 in 2019.
Final seasons will be adopted at PFMC meetings on April 3-10. Click (here) for details on upcoming PFMC meeting.
Unprecedented state fishing ban due to COVID-19
Wetting a line right now is temporarily banned through 5 p.m. on April 8 in all statewide waters, and in the annals of Washington sport fishing history nothing to this extent has ever been witnessed. WDFW will reconvene on April 6 to see if an extension is necessary or if there are options instead of a complete ban. The department is already feeling the heat and outrage from anglers, but the harsh reality is we live in a critical time of “social distancing” that just might save ourselves but maybe a fishing buddy or loved one, the gas station or grocery store attendant or the elderly. It’s a tough choice that’s up for debate although for the moment it’s a very smart choice to stay home and tie leaders, look at old fishing pictures, add fresh fishing line to the reel, watch a You Tube fishing video or prep the boat and motor. Spring cleaning, yard work or repairs around the house could also score you brownie points with your significant other later in the fishing season!
For now all we can say is that hope is eternal and as soon as we gain control of this world-wide pandemic situation the faster we’ll all be reeling in more time on the water.
Planned spring fishing options
(As indicated all fisheries below are currently CLOSED until further notice but this can be used as a reference once the statewide fishing ban is lifted.)
• Tentative dates have been set for the Puget Sound spot shrimp opener but WDFW is waiting to release them until the fishing season resumes. What we do know is that it will occur in early May.
• For hatchery chinook fishing head to the western Strait (Area 5) which is open through April 30. The eastern Strait (6), San Juan Islands (7) and northern Puget Sound (9) is open through April 15; and south-central Puget Sound (Area 11), Hood Canal (12) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) are open through April 30. Southern Puget Sound (13) is open year-round. Central Puget Sound (10) is closed.
• The coastal lingcod fishery is open off Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh boundary line. Areas east of Bonilla-Tatoosh opens April 16. Many inner-Puget Sound areas also open May 1. Anglers can also pursue healthy black rockfish populations off the entire coast. Sport anglers are now required to carry a bottomfish descending device onboard their boat in all marine areas, including the coast. Descending devices are used to release certain rockfish back to the depth and improve their survival when released. Click (here) for details on bottomfishing and rockfish rules.
• The halibut fishery opens in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and most of Puget Sound on April 16. The western Strait, Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay opens April 30 for halibut. Click (here) for details on halibut fishing.
• The statewide lowland lakes trout opener on 546 waterways across Washington is April 25-26 and WDFW will be stocking or has stocked more than 16.5 million trout and kokanee. Click (here) for opening day details.
Word on NW Fishing Derby Series
The COVID-19 outbreak also has the series heading into uncharted waters. The Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19 and the Lake Stevens Kokanee on May 23 have been cancelled following the same course as the For the Love of Cod derbies in southern Oregon last month. Lake Chelan derby coordinator Jason Williams had 250 participants pre-registered but felt it was the right move given the dire situation. Williams and Crissy Cooper who manages the southern Oregon derbies plan to possibly reschedule but need to see if it’s feasible. At this point the Father’s Day Big Bass Classic at Tenmile Lake in southern Oregon on June 20-21 is still a go.
The Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby was held on March 13-15, and 820 tickets were sold (762 in 2019) with anglers catching 144 hatchery chinook (237 in 2019) with an average weight of 8.23 pounds (7.95 in 2019). The winner of a $10,000 first-place check went to Brandon Leeper of Bellingham with a 15.70-pound fish. That was followed by the Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22, which had 474 tickets sold and 69 hatchery chinook weighed in averaging 7.22 pounds with a total weight of 497 pounds. A first-place check of $3,000 went to Mike Virdell of Marysville with a 16.69-pound fish.
The highlight of the “20 in 2020 Series” is a chance to win a $75,000 grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. It comes equipped with Shoxs Seats; WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Anglers who enter don’t need to catch a fish to win this fully loaded boat. Other sponsors are The Reel News; NW Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet; Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine. Click (here) for derby details.
I’ll hope to see you on the water soon once we get past this crisis, and in the meantime stay healthy and wash your hands!
March 2020 – Spring Fishing in the NW
I love March! And why, might you ask, do I have this “hug fest” during a timeframe when many are still climbing out of a winter funk?
Let’s see, I’m turning to page 105 to 123 of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulation pamphlet, and wow, it shows there’s a plethora of saltwater late winter and early spring salmon fishing options. Add to that decent tidal exchanges right out of the starting gate, improving fishing reports, and baitfish schools finally appearing in all the usual places with hungry chinook likely right on their heels.
Now you know why I’m stoked!
However, before the excitement settled in it was somewhat rough out of the starting gate as Mother Nature dealt crummy weather from January through most of February in the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open through April 15; northern Puget Sound (9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) both open through April 30.
The good news is angler pressure remained light and chinook encounter rates were low. Often premature closures of areas hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (minimum size limit is 22 inches). Therefore, planning a trip sooner than later will guarantee you more time on the water. WDFW managers monitor all the fisheries and provide regular updates on sport catch data.
In San Juan Islands fishing is fair to good for winter chinook – 5 to 12 pounds with some hitting the high teens – around Spieden Island; Waldron Island, Spring Pass; north side Orcas Island from Lawrence Point west to Point Thompson; Sucia Island; President Channel in Warm Beach area; Rosario Pass; Smith Island; Tide Point; Lopez Pass; and Obstruction Pass; and Thatcher Pass. In northern Puget Sound, the “go to” spots are Point No Point; Pilot Point; Possession Bar; Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Browns Bay; and Double Bluff off Whidbey Island. Action has been slow to fair at “racetrack” between Camano Head and Hat Island; Elger Bay; Baby Island; Rocky Point; Greenbank; Holmes Harbor; Onamac Point; and Columbia Beach.
More salmon options come to light
Winter chinook action will ramp up in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (5) when it opens March 1 through April 30, and eastern Strait (6) opens March 1 through April 15.
Historically March and April are prime time in the eastern Strait at exposed underwater shelf’s like McArthur, Partridge, Salmon, Hein, Coyote, Eastern and Middle banks.
Looking at the tide chart before taking a trip to the bank and understanding locations of where schools of chinook are hunkering down on a flood or ebb tide is important. For example, Hein is best on an ebb tide along the east and south sides. Partridge, Eastern and Coyote are also better on an ebb tide while McArthur produces on a flood tide.
Remember this is big water fishing grounds and in late winter and spring these exposed banks can churn up winds and rough water at a moment’s notice. Just to give you an idea of how far away the banks are to dry land its more than 22 miles from Port Angeles to Hein Bank by boat and more than 20 miles to the Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina.
Other decent locations are Sekiu; Freshwater Bay; Winter Hole and Ediz Hook off Port Angeles; and the “humps” – three underwater shelfs – located just west of Winter Hole.
Don’t overlook South Sound salmon
Central Puget Sound (10) is open through March 31; and south-central Sound and Hood Canal (11 and 12) are open through April 30 although success has been minimal. Southern Puget Sound (13) is also open year-round. That doesn’t mean the light switch won’t turn on at a moment’s notice off Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; Allen Bank off Blake Island; Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; and Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island.
“20 in 2020” is NW Fishing Derby Series slogan
The first three derbies of the 2020 season wrapped up last month and success was fair to good in the San Juan Islands.
The Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 kicked off the series with 329 anglers catching 62 fish. First place was Corey Coleman with an 18.14 pounder that earned him $12,000. The Friday Harbor Salmon Classic was Feb. 6-8 and 308 anglers caught 100 fish. Jeff Nelson took first with an 18.57 pounder who took home $20,000.
Those were followed by the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15 where 343 anglers caught 174 fish. Winner was Jason Squibb’s 18-pound, 14-ounce fish worth $12,000. Next is the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15; Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22; and For the Love of Cod Derby in Coos Bay/Charleston, Oregon on March 21-22 and in Brookings, Oregon on March 28-29.
The highlight of the 2020 series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package. Other sponsors include Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet; Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; The Reel News; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.
I’ll see you on the water soon!
NW Fishing Derby Series Begins Next Month in San Juan Islands
The future of the revamped series is just on the horizon with three derbies happening in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is a winter chinook fishing hotspot.
They include the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 (sold out but has a waiting list); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000. Other events soon after are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15 with a $10,000 first place prize; and Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22 with a $3,000 check for the largest fish. New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19. The highlight of the series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package. A huge “thank you” to our other sponsors who make the series a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.
You can get a first glimpse of the new derby boat pulled with a 2019 Chevy Silverado – provided by our sponsor Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet – during The Seattle Boat Show from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the CenturyLink Field and Event Center in Seattle. The Northwest Fishing Derby Series is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating Program which serves the NMTA’s core purpose—to increase the number of boaters in the Pacific Northwest. The derby series is the most visible element of the program, which promotes boating and fishing throughout the region by partnering with existing derbies and marketing those events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For details, go to www.
I’ll see you on the water soon!
Some Dungeness Crab Fisheries Extended into January
The Dungeness crab season along the east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) will remain open daily through Jan. 31 – originally it was scheduled to close after Dec. 31. WDFW indicates crab abundance can support an additional in-season increase to the harvest shares. Managers made the decision to extend the season to offset a closure that occurred between Oct. 23 through Nov. 28 while crab abundance was assessed. Elsewhere some sections of northern Puget Sound and Hood Canal are also open daily now through Jan. 31. They are Area 9 between the Hood Canal Bridge and a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point (Port Gamble, Port Ludlow) and the portion of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) north of a line projected due east from Ayock Point. Crabbers won’t be required to have a Puget Sound Dungeness crab license endorsement or record Dungeness crab retained on a Catch Record Card when crabbing in January in Areas 8-1 and 8-2 and open sections of Area 9 and 12. However, a valid shellfish or combination license is required. The 2019 winter catch cards must be returned to WDFW by Feb. 4. Sport crabbers are reminded that setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.
Facts About Winter Chinook
The holiday celebrations are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at winter chinook fishing options, including a few that began this month.
Central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) are now open for winter hatchery blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s dark gum-line. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30. “There wasn’t a lot of bait around in Area 10 when it was last open (fishing closed on Nov. 12) although we managed to release some bigger sized blackmouth,” said Justin Wong, owner of Cut Plug Charter in Seattle. “We didn’t catch a lot of shakers (chinook under the 22-inch minimum size limit) so that is a good thing.” Lastly, consider getting out sooner than later since early closures hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (fish over the 22-inch minimum size limit). In central Puget Sound look for blackmouth at Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; northwest side of Vashon Island by the channel marker; Yeomalt Point and Skiff Point on the east side of Bainbridge Island; and Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeastern corner. In south-central Puget Sound try around the Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island; Southworth Ferry Landing; and Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp. Hood Canal doesn’t garner as much attention in the winter but don’t underestimate what can be a decent fishery off Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock. Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) open year-round for hatchery chinook is another overlooked fishery. Good places are Fox Point; Gibson Point; Point Fosdick; Hale Passage; Anderson Island; Lyle Point; and Devil’s Head and Johnson Point. Other choices on the horizon for winter chinook are the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open Feb. 1 through April 15; northern Puget Sound (Area 9) open Feb. 1 through April 15; and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) open Feb. 1 through April 30.
Salmon season meeting dates set for 2020
It’s never too late to begin making plans to be a part of the sport-salmon fishing season setting process. For the moment the early outlook appears to resemble last year’s fisheries with a few improvements, but more details won’t come to light until later next month. Tentative meeting dates – Feb. 28, WDFW salmon forecast public meeting at DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia; March 16, North of Falcon public meeting at Lacey Community Center; March 19, North of Falcon public meeting in Sequim; March 23, Pacific Fishery Management Council public hearing at Westport; March 25, North of Falcon public meeting at WDFW Mill Creek office; and March 30, North of Falcon public meeting at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Avenue West in Lynnwood. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt final salmon seasons on April 5-11 at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 West 6th Street in Vancouver, WA. Specific meeting agendas and times should be known soon. Details: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/
Oldest salmon derby gets underway
The Tengu Blackmouth Derby – the oldest salmon derby that began prior to and shortly after World War II in 1946 – is held on Sundays 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting Jan. 5 through Feb. 23 on Elliott Bay at the Seacrest Boathouse (now known as Marination Ma Kai) in West Seattle. In previous years, the derby started in October when Area 10 opens for winter hatchery chinook. However, this year’s non-retention of chinook delayed the event to coincide with the Jan. 1 opener. Last year, the derby was cancelled when WDFW decided to shutdown Area 10 just a few weeks after it began. What makes the derby so challenging is the simple fact blackmouth are scarce around the inner bay during winter months.
The derby is named after Tengu, a fabled Japanese character who stretched the truth, and just like Pinocchio, Tengu’s nose grew with every lie. In a typical derby season, the catch ranges from 20 to 23 legal-size chinook and has reached as high as 50 to 100 fish although catches have dipped dramatically since 2009. The record-low catch was four fish in 2010, and all-time high was 234 in 1979. The last full-length season was 2017 when 18 blackmouth were caught and a winning fish of 9 pounds-15 ounces went to Guy Mamiya. Justin Wong had the most fish with a total of five followed by John Mirante with four fish.
It has been a while since a big fish was caught in the derby dating back to 1958 when Tom Osaki landed a 25-3 fish. In the past decade, the largest was 15-5 caught by Marcus Nitta during the 2008 derby. To further test your skills, only mooching is allowed in the derby. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. The membership fee is $15 and $5 for children age 12-and-under. Tickets will be available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle. Rental boats with or without motors are available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.