Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.
By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association
A close peek at calendar made me wince as the holidays are in full-swing with 24/7 Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel and malls filled to the gills with shoppers.
While that is all near and dear to my heart, I’ve also got this holiday free-time addiction called “salmon fishing.”
No matter what kind of remedy I seek, it just keeps hooking me into getting on my boat. On some mornings, I’ll even tow the boat to the ramp, sniff the air for wind and then make a game-time decision.
In past seasons, December wasn’t just filled with mistletoe bliss, but earmarked a time to go chinook fishing and bring back a couple nice salmon fillets for the holiday dinner table.
Yet, here we are right in middle of another holiday rush, and the choices to wet a line for salmon are rather slim pickings.
Bummed you ask?
We can gripe why December salmon fishing isn’t up to snuff or look at viable options to keeping a rod-and-reel in hand. I unanimously choose the latter.
A top choice is the Clay Banks off the Point Defiance Park area in Tacoma – part of south-central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 11) open through April 30 – which is often teeming with baitfish, hungry hatchery chinook and protected from prevailing southerly winds.
Tops on my radar screen is central Puget Sound (10), which for the moment is open through Feb. 28, unless an emergency closure shuts it down.
Here one can find plenty of action at places like Allen Bank off the southeast side of Blake Island; west side of Blake Island; Restoration Point; Rich Passage; Yeomalt Point; Southworth; Manchester; and northwestern tip off Vashon Island.
Keep your eyes open at other spots like Hood Canal (12) and southern Puget Sound (13). Further down the pipeline is when the San Juan Islands (7) reopen Jan. 1 just in time to ring in the New Year!
Winter Dungeness crab fishing also remains open daily in some marine areas through Dec. 31, and this can turn you into a “rock star” at the holiday dining table as guests devour a big bowl of fresh cracked crab. It’s time to get on this one!
Look for crab around Whidbey Island; northeast side of Kitsap Peninsula; Camano Island; Mukilteo area; Holmes Harbor; Hat Island; Port Angeles Harbor; Strait of Juan de Fuca; and San Juan Islands. Remember due to a downtrend in crab abundance locations south of Edmonds and Hood Canal – Marine Catch Areas 10, 11, 12 and 13 are closed this winter.
Early salmon fishing closures for Areas 8 and 9
This nice pair of hatchery chinook were caught at Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend in early November before the Area 9 closure on-board the boat of Tom Nelson, host of the Outdoor Line on KIRO 710 AM.
Rewind to Nov. 1 when alarm bells rang left and right, as news came out that encounter rates of sub-legal chinook – those under the 22-inch minimum size limit – were much higher than anticipated.
It was then WDFW fishery managers took a cautious approach to close the seasons on Nov. 13 – two-weeks earlier than planned in northern Puget Sound (9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2), which was supposed to stay open through April 30. A decision to close them was inevitable to keep the fishing machine humming again sometime after the New Year.
Ryan Lothrop, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound recreational salmon manager said: “In 2015, we had a lot of sub-legals in fisheries, and we don’t want to impact our winter fisheries happening later on. Most agree that we wait until these fish grow larger, and have a more predictable opportunity.”
I’ve been a huge fan of selective salmon fishing for winter blackmouth dating back more than two decades when state fisheries began mass-marking hatchery salmon.
Their objective was to increase opportunities for sport anglers by being able to distinguish the difference between wild unmarked and adipose fin-clipped chinook in fisheries open at certain periods of the year.
While that was all fine and dandy, a decision by state fishery managers a while back to begin assessing ongoing salmon encounters of both sub-legal and legal-size fish, now makes or breaks if anglers can fish for hatchery-produced salmon.
Each marine area has an “encounter ceiling.” As each area nears the ceiling they’re often faced with premature closures especially when the sub-legal catch skyrockets like it did last month.
This has been a hard pill to swallow by anglers especially since millions of dollars are spent by state, tribal and federal agencies to produce and fin-clip hatchery chinook and coho. The lifecycle of these fish is to constantly feed and grow, and eventually get caught. But, since it’s considered a mixed stock of wild and hatchery fish, and with a Puget Sound ESA listing you get the big picture of the situation.
Data taken from Nov. 1-5, showed 495 boats with 889 anglers in Area 9 kept 240 legal-size chinook and released 1,137 sub-legals for a total encounter rate of 1,377 fish. The guideline for encounters is 11,053 fish putting the fishery already at a staggering 88 percent for sub-legals and 12 percent at legal-size fish.
From Nov. 1-5, 98 boats with 172 anglers in Area 8-1 kept 52 legal-size hatchery chinook (plus five unmarked wild fish kept) and released 67 sub-legal size hatchery chinook for a total encounter rate of 124 fish. In Area 8-2, 165 boats with 315 anglers kept 50 legal-size hatchery chinook and released 65 sub-legal size hatchery chinook for 115. The guideline for encounters in both areas is 5,492 fish putting the fishery already at a staggering 88 percent for sub-legals and 12 percent at legal-size fish.
From Nov. 1-5, 73 boats with 162 anglers in Area 10 kept eight legal-size chinook and released 10 sub-legals for a total encounter rate of 18 fish. The guideline for encounters is 5,349 fish putting the fishery at 73 percent for sub-legals and 9 percent at legal-size fish.
NW Salmon Derby Series debuts 2018 boat and schedule
The Everett No-Coho Blackmouth Derby was held Nov. 4-5 that drew 499 anglers who caught 109 chinook averaging 6.22 pounds (146 fish were caught last year averaging 6.55 pounds). About 70 percent of the fish were caught on first day due to the lousy weather conditions by second day. The winner was Adam Burke who caught an 11.89 chinook and took home a check for $4,000.
The winner of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series grand prize $85,000 fully-loaded Hewescraft boat with Honda motors went to Gary March of Worley, Idaho who fished earlier this summer in The Big One Salmon Derby on Lake Coeur d’Alene. In all more than 4,000 anglers were entered in 14 derbies. The story on March is truly a must read, and can be found at http://nmtablog.blogspot.com/2017/11/northwest-salmon-derby-series-grand.html.
Looking toward 2018 we’ve got some exciting news as we introduce a derby to the series, and our new grand prize boat will be a KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series powered with a Honda 150hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on a EZ-loader galvanized trailer and fully rigged with Scotty downriggers, Raymarine electronics, WhoDat Tower and a Dual Electronics Stereo – a $65,000 value.
The 15 derbies in the series starts off with the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Jan. 5-7 in Anacortes.
Here is the 2018 Northwest Salmon Derby Series schedule:
•Resurrection Salmon Derby January 5-7
•Roche Harbor Salmon Classic Jan. 18-20
•Friday Harbor Salmon Classic Feb. 8-10
•Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby March 9-11
•Everett Blackmouth Derby March 17-18
•Bellingham Salmon Derby July 13-15
•The Big One Salmon Derby July 25-29
•Brewster Salmon Derby August 2-5
•South King County PSA Derby August 4
•Gig Harbor PSA Derby August 11
•Vancouver, B.C., Canada Chinook Classic August 18-19
•Edmonds Coho Derby September 8 (Depends on season setting process)
•Columbia River Fall Salmon Derby September 8
•Everett Coho Derby September 22-23 (Depends on season setting process)
•Everett No-Coho Blackmouth Salmon Derby November 3-4
(The 2018 schedule is subject to change)
For additional derby details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.
Dig into more coastal beaches
The next round of coastal razor clam digs have been approved for Friday through Monday (Dec. 1-4) during evening low tides only.
Digging will be open Dec. 1 at Copalis (minus-0.3 feet at 4:42 p.m.); Dec. 2 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.1 at 5:29 p.m.); Dec. 3 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis (-1.6 at 6:15 p.m.); Dec. 4 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks (-1.8 at 7:02 p.m.); and Dec. 31 Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks (-1.2 at 5:12 p.m.).
Diggers will find a mixed bag of razor clam sizes – diggers must keep the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition – and the key is if you’re finding small ones in a certain area of the beach don’t be afraid to move to another spot, according to Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.
Despite the a mixed bag it looks like razor clam diggers are finding oodles of clams on coastal beaches.
“The most recent digs (Nov. 2-5) went well, and we had 27,770 digger trips with 366,484 clams dug,” Ayres said. “That comes out to 13.2 clams per person.”
A breakdown by beaches showed Twin Harbors had 5,268 diggers Nov. 3-5 with 73,215 clams for an average of 13.9 clams per person; Copalis had 4,904 with 52,541 Nov. 2 and Nov. 4 for 10.7; Mocrocks had 3m229 with 47,354 Nov. 3 and Nov. 5 for 14.7; and Long Beach had 14,371 with 193,373 Nov. 3-5 for 13.5.
“The crowds were lighter than we had projected and I’m sure the weather forecast scared away some from turning out,” Ayres said. “The exception was Long Beach, which had more than expected, and the folks did quite well. Down the road we might need to back off at Long Beach, but the other beaches were fine.”
After just two series of digs, Long Beach has harvested 36 percent of the total allowable catch for the entire season.
Another dig is planned on Dec. 31, and more digs for January and February will be announced very soon.
Ayres pointed out they’re not seeing any issues with marine toxins like domoic acid, and are likely past the sensitive time of the year.
“We will go ahead with next digs planned in December, and then reassess to make sure we have enough clams for digs after the New Year and in spring,” Ayres said.
Diggers should check for updates on next digs by going to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.