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
It’s time to hit the “refresh button” as we ring in the New Year with plenty of fishing choices, a chance to participate in a NW Salmon Derby Series event or, tops on the list, taking in the 72nd Seattle Boat Show.
I’m feeling reinvigorated just thinking about all the places to go, events to see and fish to catch, if you catch my drift!
First off there’s no need to winterize your boat in the Pacific Northwest especially with the salmon fishing opportunities that abound right now from the San Juan Islands to Olympia.
The winter chinook fisheries hit full-stride when it opened today (January 1) for winter hatchery chinook at the highly-popular marine fishing grounds of northern and central Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Areas 7, 9 and 10).
Three key ingredients to make your outing a success is finding schools of baitfish (herring and candlefish) since blackmouth are hard-wired on feeding. That means it’s important to stay on top of baitfish and if you drift off them be sure to rev up the main motor and move right back to that same location.
The second tip is to not keep your presentation near the surface or at mid-water column depths like you often would do in the summer-time. These fish tend to hang right off the bottom digging their noses in the sand for bait like candlefish or picking off schools of herring. Keep your bait moving up and down the water column and let it soak for a little bit on or near the bottom before reeling it back up. If using downriggers set them at multiple depths and be sure one of the lead balls is bouncing right off the bottom.
Third is knowing a winter blackmouth’s habit during tidal movements and it isn’t necessary to be out on the water at the crack of dawn as you would during the summer. These fish are more predictable so if the bite occurred at a certain time of the day, it’s most likely they’ll do the same the following day only an hour later. Understanding their tendencies and where fish are hanging out on certain tides will lead to better success.
David Stormer, the WDFW Puget Sound Recreational fisheries manager says to keep in mind closing dates could hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (the minimum size limit is 22 inches).
The San Juan Islands winter fishery can’t exceed 3,176 total unmarked encounters and/or exceed 11,867 total encounters. WDFW will provide in-season catch estimates around Jan. 11.
In northern Puget Sound the encounter ceiling is 10,004 chinook; and central Puget Sound (Area 10) it is 3,596. WDFW will provide in-season catch estimates for 9 and 10 around Jan. 18.
All three areas will begin with a one hatchery chinook daily limit.
My word of advice is to go sooner than later, which will likely guarantee you more time on the water.
Salmon predictions roll out soon
We’re still a couple months out before anglers get their first glimpse of 2019 salmon forecasts but here’s early insight on pink salmon that return during odd-numbered years.
“We are just starting to get the spawning surveys and forecasts compiled,” said Marisa Litz, the WDFW pink and chum salmon biologist. “What we know for pinks is that a lot of fry can produce a lot of fish. Pinks are known to produce a lot of fry even coming off low returns. We won’t know for sure what 2019 holds but if we get that type of production we may see somewhat of an uptick in pinks.”
The pinks seem to be a very prolific fish, the run doubled from 1997 to 1999 although it is not a guarantee nor a consistent situation. It was like 1991 when 500,000 pinks returned and then soared to 1-million by 1993.
“It is something to be cautiously optimistic about,” Litz said.
WDFW and tribal co-managers are in the process of completing drafts for all salmon returns and the pink draft estimate for 2017 wasn’t very rosy.
“The pink runs are very boom or bust and we can see some pretty dramatic changes,” Litz said. “The total pink return was 480,858 pinks in 2017 (down from preseason forecast that year of 1,150,522) and to give you some context this is the lowest run size we’ve seen since 1997.”
In terms of a run-size and prior to 1997 you’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to see a lower run than that. Litz pointed out the 2017 pink return puts it in the top three lowest runs in the past 40 years.
For the past 15 years pink returns have steadily increased with more than a million returning in 2013, which was a record setting year.
“We had a lot of flooding and drought conditions in 2015,” Litz said. “That summer rivers were extremely low, and the spawning channels were very narrow when the pinks arrived. Then we had big floods and scouring of spawning beds and that wiped out a lot fish.”
The reductions from 2015 to 2017 was drastic, especially in the freshwater production environment, but the marine production was also hampered with a blow to the arm by the “Blob” – a mass of warm water that wreaked havoc on the Pacific Ocean ecosystem.
Here is a look at how some Puget Sound pink returns fared in 2017:
The Dungeness River had a pink return of 356,000 in 2015 and was 20,000 in 2017; Nooksack was 335,000 to 35,000 (96,218 was preseason forecast); Skagit was 411,000 to 86,000 in 2017 (85,600); Hood Canal was 646,000 to 39,000 (229,440); Puyallup was 800,000 to 100,000 (382,391); and Nisqually was 200,000 to 9,000 (21,463).
“The Green pink return was just getting started and new to this river system and we had close to 100,000 in 2013,” Litz said. “It appears the run is there to stay; we had about 50 percent less come back in 2017 (118,689) to what we saw in 2015.”
The Fraser River pink return was estimated at more than 8-million in 2017 and run-size ended up being 3,616,000 with an escapement goal of 6-million. That actual return was the second lowest since 1965.
Anglers got an early peek at Columbia River salmon return predictions last month that don’t look very rosy for spring and summer chinook and sockeye, and all are down from the 10-year average.
A total of 157,500 spring chinook are forecast to return down from a forecast of 248,520 last year and an actual return of 176,642. The upriver-bound total is 99,300 down from 166,700 last year and an actual return of 115,081.
Lower Columbia tributaries are also taking a hit with Cowlitz at 1,300 (5,150 forecasted in 2018 and actual return of 4,000); Kalama, 1,400 (1,450 and 2,300); Lewis, 1,600 (3,700 and 3,200); Willamette, 40,200 (53,820 and 37,441); and Sandy, 5,500 (5,400 and 4,733).
The Upper Columbia summer chinook return is 35,900 down from 67,300 last year and an actual return of 42,120. As for sockeye it is 94,400 down from 99,000 and 210,915.
Other news from the Big-C showed a 2018 fall chinook prediction of 376,000 and preliminary returns are about 75 percent of the forecast. The good news is bright jack chinook appear improved compared to 2017 and tule jack are similar to 2017.
The 2019 fall chinook outlook show bright stocks similar, and tule stock less than the 10-year average. Poor ocean conditions the past several years will likely hinder returns in 2019.
The 2018 Columbia coho return is about 35-percent of the preseason forecast of 213,600. The good news is jack coho returns are much improved over recent years and are about 50-percent greater than the recent 10-year average.
Other salmon nibbles and bites
Anglers who ventured off the coast managed to find good coho fishing this past summer while the king fishing never really took off.
“We had a pretty darn good coho fishery coast-wide and had a couple places close, which reached their coho quota early and while that is never good news what it means is that we caught fish,” said Wendy Beeghly, the WDFW coastal salmon manager. “Chinook fishing was slow everywhere last year. It makes sense since chinook returns weren’t very good in the Columbia River.”
Beeghly noted the coho seen in sampling were healthy, bigger and fatter so that was encouraging.
“While we can’t provide anything definitive just yet, what we saw with coho last season was good news compared to prior years and we all hope that what lies ahead will be good,” Beeghly said.
Federal fisheries managers are also reporting that environmental conditions in the ocean are improving, salmon productivity has made a turn for the better and the food chain is on the mend.
“The coho response to those factors should be a lot quicker than chinook which take some time and are slower to recover,” said Ryan Lothrop, a WDFW salmon specialist for the Columbia River region.
WDFW will present their salmon forecasts at the end of February in Olympia. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will approve final salmon seasons April 9-16 in Rohnert Park, CA.
Seattle Boat Show drops anchor soon
The Seattle Boat Show – the largest boat show on the West Coast – is Jan. 25 through Feb. 2. This is your one-stop shop for checking out hundreds of fishing boats, informative fishing seminars, and state-of-the-art gear and electronics.
There will be 78 free fishing seminars (up from 55 last year), and more coverage on a variety of new topics by top-notch experts that will provide an in-depth wealth of knowledge on how to catch fish across the Pacific Northwest. For a complete list of all fishing and boating seminars, go to https://seattleboatshow.com/
This is also a great time for visitors to check out the NW Salmon Derby Series grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. It will be on display in the West Hall at the Master Marine Boat Center.
The fully-rigged boat comes with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics Stereo. Other sponsors who make the derby series a major success include Silver Horde Lures; Harbor Marine; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Salmon, Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics. The boat will be pulled to each event by a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of our sponsor Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.
First up are the now sold-out Resurrection Salmon Derby Jan. 4-6 in Anacortes (http://www.resurrectionderby.
There are 15 derby events in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and the drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at the conclusion of the Everett CohoDerby on Sept. 21-22. For derby details, go to http://www.
I’ll see you on the water or come say “hi” at the great Seattle Boat Show!