Anglers Race To Rivers, Industry Rejoices With Puget Sound Fishing Opener

Puget Sound anglers and the region’s sportfishing industry are breathing a collective sigh of relief today — and burning rubber to get to now-open fisheries such as Reiter Ponds.

Headed there!!!!” steelheader Ryley “Sky-Guy” Fee emailed us after getting the word that WDFW had finally received the federal go-ahead to hold 2016-17’s fisheries.

signed sealed and delivered

On the Skagit and Cascade, spring salmon are now fair game too.

On the water in 30 minutes!!!” wrote North Sound guide Cal Stocking on our Facebook post announcing the news.

Sporting goods stores and boat dealers were just as eager to get back to business.

At one end of Pugetropolis, Gabe Miller called it “the best news I have heard in a long time.”

“I know the manufactures we deal with have been pleased to hear this as well,” said the fishing and marine gear buyer at Sportco and Outdoor Emporium in Fife and Seattle. “I have been on the phone all morning giving our vendors the good news and trying to scramble to get purchase orders rolling.”

And at the other end of the inland sea, Larry Carpenter, owner of Master Marine in Mount Vernon and vice chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, simply said, “Thank God … it is about time!!”

This year’s federal permit was late in coming due to the breakdown of salmon-season-setting negotiations between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Western Washington tribes at North of Falcon.

Meanwhile, WDFW’s incidental take coverage for fisheries where Endangered Species Act-listed stocks might be hooked expired as of May 1, forcing the closure of many rivers, saltwater areas and even Lakes Washington and Sammamish for bass.

An agreement was finally reached in late May, but outside of the NOF process, the National Marine Fisheries Service‘s review took four weeks instead of the usual two or so.

THE SKYKOMISH AND OTHER RIVERS IN PUGETROPOLIS HAVE BEEN BEREFT OF ANGLERS THIS MONTH -- UNTIL TODAY, WHEN WDFW RECEIVED FEDERAL AUTHORIZATION TO IMMEDIATELY OPEN THEM TO FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THE SKYKOMISH AND OTHER RIVERS IN PUGETROPOLIS HAVE BEEN BEREFT OF ANGLERS THIS MONTH — UNTIL TODAY, WHEN WDFW RECEIVED FEDERAL AUTHORIZATION TO IMMEDIATELY OPEN THEM TO FISHING. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It all meant that anglers’ casts and tackle shacks’ orders for more gear have been on hold.

“Our fishing sales have been incredibly slow the past few months, so hopefully this should kick things into high gear for the summer,” said Miller, who is also vice president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “We had to suspend hundreds of thousands of dollars in orders for fear that we might not get a season at all.”

Tony Floor of the Northwest Marine Trade Association called it “a long two and a half months in unprecedented and uncharted waters.”

Acknowledging the short-term losses — nearly two months on one of the nation’s top 100 bass lakes and 23 1/2 days of steelheading and Chinook fishing on the Skykomish, Skagit and Cascade — he maintains we gained ground for the long term.

“We can’t redo fisheries that have passed, but there are bigger fisheries ahead — I like it,” says NMTA’s organization’s fishing affairs director.

The permit comes in time for the July 1 openings of hatchery kings  in most of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and throughout the San Juan Islands.

And it marks a victory for a sportfishery that last year was rear-ended very, very late in the game at North of Falcon — and nearly T-boned this year.

“Mark-selective Chinook in Areas 9 and 10 held ground despite an intense attack by the tribes. The tribes said no, but (WDFW) Director Jim Unsworth held his ground,” he said.

Those fisheries open in mid-July with quotas of 3,056 and 1,395 adipose-fin-clipped kings. The tribes were reportedly trying to cut those figures in half.

Today’s news also provides certainty for NMTA that it can proceed with most of its usual summer lineup in the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, starting with the Bellingham Salmon Derby July 8-10, and including two August events in the South Sound.

Two September silver derbies, including the big Everett Coho Derby, did have to be cancelled because of this year’s low forecasts and closed fall waters, but that also means better odds of being drawn for the series’ grand prize, a Hewescraft 220 OceanPro set up with Mercury 225 outboard, 9.9-horse kicker, trailer, Scotty downriggers and Lowrance electronics, an $85,000 package that will be awarded to some lucky 2016 derby(s) entrant at the Nov. 6 Bayside Marine Salmon Derby.

To be sure, this year’s salmon seasons are particularly bad news for bank fishermen– the popular lower Puyallup and Skokomish Rivers are off limits — but the impasse also showed us what’s on the other side of where WDFW didn’t dare tread in the past.

“The past two directors had an unwillingness to take a new course and go it alone. Credit to Jim Unsworth to have the courage to go where no other director has gone,” Floor said.

I expected to hear from another high-honcho at the agency about today’s developments, but you know what, with the job now done, I hope he immediately took the rest of the day off and is enjoying a well-deserved beverage right now.

I know it took a lot of hard work from Director Jim Unsworth, Ron Warren and the rest of the team at WDFW to get us to this point, and I hope that people don’t let that go unnoticed,” said Miller.

Meanwhile, Floor’s hopeful the agency will come out of North of Falcon 2017 permit in hand to prevent similar chaos next year.

NSIA executive director Liz Hamilton agreed, and might have summed today up best.

“Let the fishing begin and the layoffs end. We are relieved and hope for a new and better journey next year,” she said.

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