Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.
By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association
In the blink of an eye summer has ended, and while fall is ushering in iffy weather and waning daylight hours that shouldn’t stop anglers from venturing out on the water.
First and foremost are the decent chances this month to hook a winter blackmouth in northern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 9), eastside of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2), central Puget Sound (10); south-central Puget Sound (11); and southern Puget Sound (13).
CENTRAL PUGET SOUND’S MARINE AREAS 8-1, 8-2, 9 AND 10 ARE NOW OPEN FOR BLACKMOUTH. TEGAN YUASA, THE AUTHOR’S SON, GOT IN ON THIS NICE HAUL OF WINTER FEEDER KINGS. (MARK YUASA)
Many charter-boat owners and sport anglers will tell you this is their favorite time of year since blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s black gum-line – are wired to constantly feed on schools of herring and candlefish.
In other words: “Find the bait and you’ll likely find a hungry blackmouth!”
Places like Possession Bar, Point No Point, Double Bluff off the south side of Whidbey Island, Jefferson Head, West Point, Point Monroe, Allen Bank off Blake Island, Hat Island, Baby Island, Clay Banks off Point Defiance, Camano Island and Southworth all come to mind with a plethora of other hot spots layered in between.
Another school of thought that makes this salmon fishery so much fun is the blackmouth’s predictability since the best bite is based on tidal influence. The payoff: If they bit the day before at a certain time frame, it’s very likely they’ll still be there the day after only an hour later into a tidal series.
Those planning on heading out for the Wednesday opening day of winter chinook fishing in northern and central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 9 and 10) will likely find lots of chinook under the 22-inch legal-size limit.
According to WDFW test fishery folks who have been plying the water in advance of tomorrow’s opener have found on average the chinook were 2-inches smaller than last year during the same time frame in Area 9. Even the three legal-size chinook were just BARELY over 22 inches.
In northern Puget Sound they encountered two legal-marked chinook, one legal-unmarked, 14 sub-legal marked and two sub-legal unmarked.
In central Puget Sound they encountered one legal-unmarked and three sub-legal marked.
This may be of concern since the fisheries could close if the chinook guideline is achieved.
Get over the crabbiness by pulling in a pot of Dungies!
To make the winter holiday feast even more appealing is the fact you can set pots again for Dungeness crab in open Puget Sound areas now through Dec. 31.
While summer crab fishing was less than stellar those who dropped pots in the “zone” filled them up with plenty of Dungies. Word has it since reopening on Oct. 7 the crab have started to fill out and are much more meatier as they fatten up for the winter.
Look for good crabbing around Whidbey Island, northeast side of Kitsap Peninsula, Camano Island, 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.
Dog days of fall upon us!
The good news for salmon anglers is two-fold as the chinook fishery reopens in some local marine areas, but the bigger news is what looks to be an extremely strong chum return.
“It appears we’re at the beginning of a stronger than forecasted chum run for Hood Canal and South Sound,” said Marisa Litz, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) chum salmon biologist.
THIS FALL’S CHUM SALMON RUN IS COMING IN STRONGLY; PETE SERGEEF HOISTS A NICE ONE CAUGHT OFF JEFF HEAD LAST YEAR. (MARK YUASA)
Sport anglers at Hoodsport in Hood Canal saw some good catches of chum this where 53 anglers on Oct. 29 had 124 chum, and 67 on Oct. 28 had 150.
Likewise catches from commercial boats in central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal were scoring good catches too.
“We had our initial (purse seine and gill-net) openings last week and this week, and based on our (catch per unit effort) they’re among the largest we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Litz said.
Early boat ticket reports showed some as high as 4,000 chum per commercial boat on Oct. 18, and it appears they remained steady this past week.
“We had several purse seiners in Hood Canal and South Sound filling up their holds, and catching a lot of good quality bright chum,” Litz said. “Of course, it is still too early, and we haven’t changed any of our preseason run-size forecasts just yet.”
The total fall chum return is 1,070,968, and a breakdown of that figure shows 492,892 for Hood Canal and 291,357 for South Sound rivers and streams.
Other fall chum forecasts are 109,337 for Nooksack/Samish; 6,966 for Skagit; 5,981 for Stillaguamish; 20,53 for Snohomish; 141,893 for central Puget Sound; and 2,061 for Strait of Juan de Fuca. Many rivers are closed to all salmon fishing to protect weak returning stocks. Check the WDFW pamphlet for what is open and/or closed to fishing.
“This is still the early stage of chum returns, but all indications show we’re going to exceed that based on the catches the last few weeks,” Litz said. “We’ve had pretty atrocious returns of pinks, and issues with chinook and coho so to see this chum return likely exceeding expectations is great news.”
WDFW and tribal fishery managers are assessing chum forecasts, and will likely start having conversations to consider increasing the run-size very soon, which could be as soon as this week.
Chum salmon – better known as dog salmon for their ferocious-looking jawline at spawning time – are also one of the hardest-fighting fish a sport angler will hook, and they can weigh up to and over 20 pounds with most averaging 8 to 15 pounds.
Anglers pursuing chums will have plenty of opportunities along some of the more traditional fishing holes, which will give up decent action in the weeks ahead with the peak usually occurring around Thanksgiving.
Popular locales are the estuaries off Kennedy Creek in Totten Inlet, Perry Creek in Eld Inlet, Johns Creek and Canyon Creek in Oakland Bay, Chico Creek estuary in Dyes Inlet and Curly Creek estuary near Southworth.
Other good places to try for chum are North Bay near Allyn, Whatcom Creek in Bellingham, McLane Creek, Eagle Creek south of Potlatch State Park, and the public-access shores off Highway 101 from Eldon to Hoodsport.
The heavy rain in past couple of weeks has pushed a lot of the early chums toward estuaries where they’ll stage before up into rivers and streams.
A bobber and anchovy or small firecracker-sized herring is the most productive way to catch fish, but tossing flies, spinners, jigs and spoons will also catch their fair share of fish. In this fishery many believe the color chartreuse is the “must have” color in your tackle gear to catch chums.
The strong abundance of chum also bodes well when northern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) reopens for blackmouth on Wednesday (Nov. 1). Anglers at places like Possession Bar and Double Bluff off the south side of Whidbey Island, Point No Point, Kingston, Pilot Point and Port Townsend should find their decent share of fish to catch.
Can you dig it?
Coastal razor clam diggers searching for the prized bivalves at Mocrocks. Fall and winter may bring harsh weather, but diggers can find hot digging.
If you can dig this news as much as I dig it, be sure to add razor clams to the cornucopia of holiday meals. Hint: Think clams instead of turkey or ham or better yet all three for a surf-and-turf celebration.
Digging is open during evening low tides on Thursday (Nov. 2) and Saturday (Nov. 4) at Copalis; Friday (Nov. 3) and Sunday (Nov. 5) at Mocrocks; and Friday through Sunday at Long Beach and Twin Harbors.
Diggers are reminded that the dig on Nov. 5 is when we set the clocks back one hour. Low tides are plus-0.1 feet at 6:03 p.m. on Thursday; minus-0.7 feet at 6:47 p.m. on Friday; -1.2 at 7:31 p.m. on Saturday; and -1.4 at 7:16 p.m. on Sunday.
Other coastal razor clam digs tentatively planned are Dec. 1 at Copalis; Dec. 2 and 4 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Dec. 3 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Copalis; and Dec. 31 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks. The season openers on Oct. 6-7 lured 28,300 diggers with an average of 12.5 clams per digger – the first 15 clams dug regardless of size or condition is a daily limit. A breakdown showed Long Beach seekers averaged 11.9; Twin Harbors, 12.4; Copalis, 13.3; and Mocrocks, 12.6. Average size was 4 to 5 inches with bigger clams at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks.
The only thing holding back future digs are a passing grade for marine toxin testing conducted prior to each series of digs. For details, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.
On freshwater scene, state fisheries plans to plant about 260,000 catchable-sized trout to boost holiday fishing in Puget Sound and Southwest Washington year-round lakes.
Issaquah’s Beaver Lake got a plant of 800 jumbo-sized trout last month with 800 more going in right before Thanksgiving. Then just before Christmas another 800 will be added to zest up the holiday fishing fun. Check WDFW’s website for latest statewide trout plants at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.
Word on NW Salmon Derby and more
Next up on the Northwest Salmon Derby Series is Everett No-Coho Blackmouth Salmon Derby this weekend (Nov. 4-5). This year’s grand prize – an $85,000 fully-loaded Hewescraft 220 OceanPro powered with Honda 250- and 9.9-horsepower motors on an EZ-Loader Tandem axle galvanized trailer – will be given away at the derby in a raffle drawing to one lucky person.
SOME LUCKY NORTHWEST SALMON ANGLER’S GOING TO WALK AWAY WITH THIS GREAT BOAT AT THE CONCLUSION OF THIS WEEKEND’S EVERETT NO-COHO BLACKMOUTH DERBY. (NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES)
We’ve also got plenty more exciting surprises coming up in 2018 for the derby series so stay tuned as we get amped up on forthcoming news.
Lastly, I’m drafting The Seattle Boat Show fishing seminars, and we’ve got new additions to spice it up when the show drops anchor Jan. 26 to Feb. 3 at Century Link Field and Event Center. It’s a one-stop get all the tips on where and how to catch fish from some of the best experts in Pacific Northwest.