EDITOR’S NOTE The following is the monthly newsletter from Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and a former 30-year veteran of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.
By Tony Floor
If you are reading this fishing column, in early July, be advised that the train has left the station. It’s not too late to get on, or get out of the way!
This train is known as the 2012 summer salmon season and it will be a freight train. Ilwaco and Westport have already opened their doors for business beginning June 9th, and La Push, along with Neah Bay lifted off on June 16th.
Now that July is here, boom, there goes the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, and Puget Sound, out of the chute. So many fish, so little time.
Last month, I fumbled reporting fishing regulations on the coast and the eastern Strait. Know before you go as it gets complicated in a hurry. Admittedly, when I start thinking about king salmon, I can’t walk and talk at the same time. The solution, again, know before you go. It’s all available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website: http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/
And if king salmon does not increase your heart rate, how about a little Dungeness crab between the cheek and gum? The summer crab season also takes the green flag on July 1st. There are about a zillion rules to know when fishing for Dungeness and I recommend increasing the volume a little higher, to know before you go.
If you are a frequent reader of this column, you may recall last summer, when Fish and Wildlife cranked up their outreach machine, aimed at a little over a quarter million Puget Sound sport crabbers, asking them to clean up their act. The most significant violation, in the sport crab fishery is failure to record your crab catch, immediately after announcing “welcome aboard.” It’s real simple and the rules are the rules. This particular rule requires a sport crabber to enter the catch information, on the crab catch record card, immediately after retaining legal sized male crab. It does not mean recording the information on the way back to the boat ramp or dock. And it certainly does not mean, “at the dock.” Failure to do so will require violators to swim the Pacific Ocean from Westport to Hokkaido, Japan.
Managing the Puget Sound crab fishery is a tough job. Puget Sound tribes take 50% of the state-tribal agreed upon allowable catch, and the other 50% is split between the non-Indian commercial and sport fishery. What’s left over goes into conservation and hopefully, preserving the crab population. Think about it. A quarter million plus sport crabbers, somewhere around 200 plus commercials and the tribal fleet. It is a bombardment of crab gear throughout the Sound. Yet, the population seems to be doing fine, as 2011 was the biggest catch by both the commercial and sport fleet in the last decade. Kudos to Rich Childers, WDFW crab biologist and his first class team for managing what might be one of the most highly sought shellfish in Puget Sound, behind the big money geoduck fishery. I don’t have much to say about geoduck, other than they don’t fight worth a hoot with a rod and reel, even on 4 pound test line. They live to be upwards of 150 years old and are never seen on travel vacations. They reside in the subtidal area, the siphon extends and retracts, filtering Puget Sound water for micro- organisms to feed on. Boring. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I don’t want to be a geoduck. But oh yeah, baby, they eat as well as filet mignon. Try Xinh’s clam and oyster house in Shelton. Order the pan fried geoduck. Your eyes will migrate to the back of your head and you’ll start speaking in tongues.
I’ve been to SE Alaska three times in the last six weeks. I love to fish their rich king salmon waters in late May through June. But now, it’s time to focus on where we live and this summer. I predict it will be a summer to remember.
Between crabbing days in south Puget Sound this month, on the open days of Thursdays through Mondays, my eyes will be on Westport and the Port Angeles area, particularly Freshwater Bay. Westport is forecasted to be hot for kings, especially in July. These fish, as I have reported in past columns, are bound for the Columbia River, and this year is forecasted at around two-thirds of a million king salmon. What did we do to deserve this windfall? I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again… thank Mother Nature and the related benefits from La Nina. And yes, it is important to acknowledge the Canadians for letting more of our king salmon to pass through their waters this year, destined for Washington and Oregon rivers and salmon hatcheries.
There is not a lot to say about learning to fish Westport. Find the schools of baitfish, and you’ll likely find the king salmon. In recent years, the fish have been out around the 300 feet of water zone, either due west of Westport or north. The ocean is a big pasture; so, if you’re taking your own boat, get some intel before you go. Pay particular attention to the marine forecast as northwest winds, common throughout the summer, can be very nasty out of Westport. I’m out of the game and on to Plan B if winds are forecasted at 20 or greater. If the baitfish is along the Ocean Shores beach and north, hit it, in the 40-80 foot zone. Trolling a plug cut herring, mid-depth can be money.
I also plan to fish Freshwater Bay a time or two, with my ‘ol friend, retired fish cop Mike Schmidt. A lot of people know Mike, as he is considered the older version of Kevin Durant when it comes to catching king salmon. Decades ago, I credit Mike for teaching me how to fish Freshwater Bay, Port Angeles, many of the banks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, along with Mid-Channel Bank at Port Townsend. Freshwater Bay is a beautiful place to fish, trolling along the kelp beds very early in the morning, and out to the adjacent king salmon highway of 100-140 feet of water. This gorgeous fishing spot is also known by local anglers as a rich zone of the Strait that consistently holds baitfish. And, the deep water happens in a hurry, attractive to king salmon sensitive to the light of day.
Typically, I am fishing 5-10 feet off the deck, and I’m not afraid to put my gear in the dirt, as the bottom is very forgiving. Most anglers fish with the current covering ground, identifying where the sand lance (candlefish) are at and working that specific area. Remember, predictably, king salmon are known to bite on the light change and particularly the current change. The current change is different than the tide change and getting to know when the current change occurs, by area, will increase your chance for success. In the evolution of Freshwater Bay, more anglers are now fishing hardware, versus the historical approach of mooching with herring. The presence of dogfish during the summer, along with greater technology changes in spoons, hoochies and flies has greatly affected fishing tactics.
So pick your spots, the ocean from Ilwaco to Neah Bay, the Strait of Juan de Fuca including the San Juans and Puget Sound. It’s king salmon time, baby, for the next three months, and the train has left the station. All aboard! See you on the water.
Editor’s note: You can subscribe to receive the monthly Tony’s Tackle Box in your e-mail by clicking on www.NorthwestSalmonDerbySeries.com.