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Yuasa: Salmon Fishing, Season Negotiations, Rainbow Releases Highlight April

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

April 2019

Spring breathes new life into the world around us and is nature’s way of saying it is time to dust off the fishing gear for plenty of options happening right now and in the not so distant future.
First off there’s still time to hook into a winter chinook from the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Marine Catch Areas 5 and 6) clear into Puget Sound and Hood Canal (7, 8-1, 8-2, 9, 11, 12 and 13) and prospects on some fishing grounds have taken a turn for the better with some bigger-sized springers up to 20 pounds.

THERE ARE BLACKMOUTH TO BE CAUGHT IN PUGET SOUND WATERS THIS MONTH. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

In eastern Strait (6) the catch limit was increased from one to two hatchery chinook daily and in the western Strait (5) it remains two hatchery chinook daily. In San Juan Islands (7) it will stay at one hatchery chinook daily. WDFW plans to look at possibly increasing the limit in northern Puget Sound and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1, 8-2 and 9) from one to two sometime in April so be sure to check to emergency regulations posted on their website.

In northern Puget Sound catches have been good one day and lousy the next. Target Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Point Wilson; Double Bluff off Whidbey Island; Pilot Point; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Mats Mats Bay; Marrowstone Island; and Foulweather Bluff.

Other marine areas worth a look are south-central Puget Sound in the Tacoma-Gig Harbor area; Hood Canal; and southern Puget Sound.

The western Strait, east side of Whidbey Island and southcentral Puget Sound and Hood Canal are open daily for winter chinook through April 30; eastern Strait, San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound are open daily through April 15. Southern Puget Sound is open year-round.

The length of seasons in some marine areas are dictated by catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (minimum size limit is 22 inches).

In eastern Strait the winter fishery can’t exceed 5,473 total chinook encounters, and through March 29 they were at 48 percent or 2,632 encounters. In San Juan Islands it is 10,735, and they were at 75 percent or 8,022 encounters.

Off the east side of Whidbey Island it is 5,474 encounters, and they were at 73 percent of 3,977 encounters. In northern Puget Sound it is 8,336 encounters, and they were at 60 percent of 4,970 encounters. WDFW provides catch updates at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html.

If bottom-fishing gets you excited then head to Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay where catches have been excellent. The halibut fisheries in some marine areas begins on May 2.

Salmon season setting meetings ongoing

Carving out salmon fishing seasons is the hot topic of conversation and a final decision will come to light at the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif., on April 11-16.

THE 2019 SUMMER SALMON SETTING FESTIVAL KNOWN AS NORTH OF FALCON WRAPS UP IN APRIL. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The North of Falcon meetings will wrap up Tuesday (April 2) and it appears there will be more coho to catch and chinook fisheries should resemble 2018 although constraints of certain wild chinook stocks like Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal will play a factor in what goes down for 2019-2020 season.

Fishery managers indicate chinook stocks are still recovering from several years of drought and dire ocean conditions so don’t expect an uptick until 2020 or later.

In Puget Sound, 670,159 coho are forecasted to return compared to 557,149 in 2018. The chinook forecast is 246,837 (217,042 are of hatchery origin and 29,796 are wild) compared to 255,219 (227,815 and 27,404) in 2018. However, the expected marginal coho run to Snohomish river system will likely mean very minimal if any fishing in the river itself.

The Puget Sound pink forecast of 608,388 won’t generate any bonus catch limits as they’re still in recovery mode. The Puget Sound fall chum return is 1,035,835 and should provide some decent late-season action.

The Lake Washington sockeye continue to struggle and the forecast in 2019 is 15,153 but Baker Lake is pegged at 33,737. Brett Barkdull, a WDFW northern Puget Sound biologist indicated Baker will have a season that mirror’s last summer.

WDFW created a potential “wish list” of several added sport fisheries in the 2019-2020 season.

Mark Baltzell, a WDFW lead salmon policy manager, says there could be a couple weekends in August for a summer fishery – one targeting chinook – in inner-Elliott Bay. This is due to a good return of 25,794 chinook to the Green/Duwamish and this has been a rarity for the past several seasons with a brief fishery in 2017.

On the table is a “bubble salmon fishery” in lower section of Area 11 in May from Point Defiance down to the Narrows Bridge and up into Gig Harbor area or open all of Area 11 in May.

Central Puget Sound (10) could be open in June for a resident coho fishery, which produced good catches of 2- to 3-pound fish in 2018 and a later start (it opened on July 16 in 2018) for the hatchery-mark chinook fishery in Area 10 to push the quota-directed season closer to the Aug. 16 closure date.

Others include an expanded fishing opportunity around Minter Creek in southern Puget Sound. A non-select coho opportunity in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) and northern Puget Sound (9), which seems unlikely given the fact that some Puget Sound and Thompson River, British Columbia, coho stocks are still stuck in a rut.

Ron Warren, the WDFW head salmon policy manager, said his department has a proposal for a summer Skokomish River chinook fishery on the table to be reviewed by tribal co-managers. This fishery has been closed for three years over a dispute about land ownership on the river’s shoreline bordering the reservation.

There are three alternative ocean sport fishing season options that reflect good hatchery coho fishing and a somewhat mediocre chinook fishery similar to 2018.

The high-end option is 32,000 chinook and 172,200 hatchery coho with opening dates either June 15 or 22; middle is 27,500 and 159,600 on either June 22 or 29; and low is 22,500 and 94,400 on either June 16 or 29.

The coho return for Columbia River is a robust 1,009,600 compared to a 2018 forecast of 349,000 and an actual return of 230,700. Along the Washington coast the coho return forecast is 401,538 up dramatically from 270,756. The Columbia River 2019 fall chinook forecast of 340,400 is better than the 2018 actual return of 290,900 but down from the preseason forecast of 365,600. For details, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Look for trout to generate prime spring options

The warm weather mid-way through last month is a sure sign that spring is in full bloom and that means thousands of anglers will be soaking their favorite colored Power Bait for the statewide lowland lakes’ trout opener on April 27-28 or even sooner for that matter.

TROUT ARE STOCKED IN A WESTERN WASHINGTON LAKE. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

WDFW hatchery crews are working overtime right now planting millions of trout and kokanee into 553 lakes and ponds across the state. The standardized catchable-sized trout is now 11 inches compared to 8-inches in previous seasons and anglers should find about 2.17-million of these trout lurking in lowland lakes, plus another 126,200 “jumbo” trout measuring 14 or more inches long.

If you’re itching to go fishing right now, then take advantage of hundreds of year-round lakes that have or will be planted this spring.
“The early plants in year-round lakes is all about timing as the cormorants – a large diving bird with a voracious appetite for planted trout – are known to get a lot of the fish,” said Justin Spinelli, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound regional biologist. “In our world it is something we deal with, and we’ll do our best to ensure they don’t get eaten up too badly. We’ll start ramping up our plants in lakes.”

Just to get an idea of where the WDFW hatchery trucks under Spinelli’s watchful eyes have been spinning their wheels one needs to look no further than Ballinger Lake on the Snohomish-King County line west of I-5 where on March 26-27 they planted a whopping 9,002; Kapowsin, 26,684; Spanaway, 18,012; Meridian, 16,815; and Lawrence, 20,102.

Other recent eye-popping trout plants include Battle Ground Lake, 4,600; American, 2,522; Black (Thurston County), 12,095; Blue (Columbia County), 4,025; Bonney, 1,050; Cassidy, 3,534; Duck, 850; Fiorito, 4,004; Gibbs, 741; Gissburg, 2,002; Green, 10,010; Horseshoe, 2,900; Island, 2,038; Kitsap, 4,830; Klineline, 5,515; Alice, 1,531; Bradley, 1,000; Ketchum, 2,000; Kokanee, 3,016; Louise, 1,000; Sawyer 1,500; Lost (Mason County), 4,912; Offutt, 5,000; Rattlesnake, 3,504; St. Clair, 6,000; Steilacoom, 5,000; and Swofford, 9,050.

Here are the total estimated plants that will occur in year-round lakes:

In King County try Alice (3,600 trout planted in March-April), Beaver (7,000 in April), Desire (8,000 in April), Green (13,500 in March-May), Meridian (16,700 in March), Morton (5,500 in April), North (9,500 in April) and Rattlesnake (3,500 in March).

In Snohomish County try Ballinger (9,000 in April), Tye (3,500 in April-May), Blackmans (1,500 in April), Flowing (6,800 in April-May), Gissburg Ponds (4,000 in March-April), Ketchum (2,000 in March), Lost (1,500 in March), Panther (1,500 in March), Roesiger (3,000 in April), Shoecraft (6,500 in March) and Silver (8,000 in April).

In Mason County try Spencer (12,644 in April-May) and Island (4,400 in April). In Thurston County try St. Clair (24,000 in April-May) and Black (39,350 in March-April). In Pierce County try Tanwax (5,500 in April-May), Spanaway (18,000 in March) and Bonney (1,020 in March). For weekly stocking updates, go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/plants/weekly/.

Word on NW Salmon Derby Series

The first five derbies in the series are in the books and each saw a very good turnout of anglers with plenty of winter chinook around to catch.

THE 2019 GRAND RAFFLE PRIZE BOAT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

The Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 16-17 had 125 boats with 402 anglers catching 109 hatchery chinook. Winner was Ben Rosenbach with a 13.63-pound fish worth $3,000 that he caught off Hat Island. Next up: Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 12-14; and Lake Coeur d’ Alene Big One Fishing Derby on July 24-28.

Be sure to check out the grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; 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 2018 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of our sponsor Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.

There are 15 derbies in Washington, Idaho and British Columbia, Canada, and drawing for the grand prize boat will take place at the conclusion of the Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’ll see you on the water!

More Details From WDFW On This Year’s Salmon Forecasts; Coho Top Prospect

Editor’s note: Here is a link to our coverage from earlier in the day: http://nwsportsmanmag.com/north-of-falcon-being-live-streamed-2019-puget-sound-coast-salmon-forecasts-out

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Fishery managers estimate higher numbers of coho salmon will return to Washington’s waters in 2019 compared to last year, but expect low returns of wild chinook will again make setting fishing seasons a challenge.

COHO FORECASTS LOOK GOOD FOR FISHING ON THE OCEAN, PUGET SOUND WATERS AND THE COLUMBIA, WHERE CHRIS SPENCER TROLLED UP THIS ONE SEVERAL SEASONS BACK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Forecasts for chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon – developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and treaty Indian tribes – were released today during a public meeting in Olympia.

The forecast meeting marks the starting point for crafting 2019 salmon-fishing seasons in Puget Sound, the Columbia River and Washington coastal areas. The annual process for setting salmon fisheries is known as “North of Falcon.” Fishery managers have scheduled a series of public meetings through early April before finalizing seasons later that month.

Kelly Susewind, WDFW director, said fishery managers will look to design fishing seasons that not only meet conservation goals for salmon but also minimize impacts on the region’s struggling southern resident killer whale population.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with tribal co-managers and constituents to make sure that we meet our conservation objectives while providing fishing opportunities where possible,” Susewind said. “It’s complicated, but important work.”

The forecasts are based on varying environmental indicators, such as ocean conditions, as well as surveys of spawning salmon, and the number of juvenile salmon migrating to marine waters.

As in past years, salmon-fishing prospects in 2019 vary by area:

Columbia River: About 218,200 “upriver brights” are expected to return to areas of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. That’s similar to the return in 2018 but down more than 50 percent from the most recent 10-year average.

An estimated 905,800 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, an increase of 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. About 147,000 coho actually returned to the Columbia River last year.

Salmon fisheries in the Columbia River will likely be designed to harvest abundant coho stocks while protecting depleted chinook and “B-run” steelhead, which return to the Columbia and Snake river basins.

Washington’s ocean waters: Anglers should have more coho fishing opportunities in Washington’s ocean waters this summer compared to 2018, given higher numbers of coho projected to return to the Columbia River and to Washington’s coastal streams.

This year’s forecast of about 100,500 hatchery chinook to the lower Columbia River is down 12,000 fish from last year’s projected return. Those hatchery chinook – known as “tules” – are the backbone of the recreational ocean fishery.

Puget Sound: Increased returns of coho salmon should provide anglers with some good fishing opportunities including in areas in mid and south Sound, said Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW.

Roughly 670,200 wild and hatchery coho are expected to return to Puget Sound this year, up 15 percent of the 10-year average. However, the total forecast for wild and hatchery chinook is down slightly from 2018.

“We’re again expecting extremely low returns in key stocks such as Stillaguamish and mid-Hood Canal chinook, which will again limit salmon fishing opportunities,” Adicks said.

Meanwhile, this year’s run of pink salmon, which mostly return to Washington’s waters only in odd-numbered years, is expected to be 608,400 fish. That’s roughly 10 percent of the 10-year average of 5.7 million fish.

Southern resident killer whales

While developing fishing proposals, the department will consider the dietary needs of southern resident killer whales as well as ways to protect orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic, Adicks said.

The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

WDFW is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas.

Public meetings and comment opportunities

A meeting schedule, salmon forecasts, and information about the salmon season-setting process are available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

WDFW intends to livestream several public meetings, including those scheduled on March 19 and April 3. The department will provide links to those upcoming livestreams, as well as to the archived video from Wednesday’s forecast meeting, on the website listed above.

Upcoming meetings include:

Ocean options: State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 7-12 in Vancouver, Wash., with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) to develop options for this year’s commercial and recreational ocean chinook and coho salmon fisheries. The PFMC establishes fishing seasons in ocean waters three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Regional discussions: Additional public meetings have been scheduled into April to discuss regional fishery issues. Input from these regional discussions will be considered as the season-setting process moves into the “North of Falcon” and PFMC meetings, which will determine the final 2019 salmon seasons.

Final PFMC: The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2018 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is scheduled to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Beginning in mid-March, fishery proposals will be posted on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/, where the public can submit comments electronically.

2019 Puget Sound, Coast Salmon Forecasts Out As North Of Falcon Live-streamed For First Time

The big North of Falcon salmon forecast reveal was live-streamed for the first time today on WDFW’s website, where the predictions for Washington Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum runs are also posted, as are comparisons to past years.

(WDFW)

If you’re looking for a highlight at first glance it would be that nearly 2 million silvers overall are expected back to the Columbia, coast and inside waters, well up from last year’s forecast.

“The expected return of 670,200 (Puget Sound) hatchery and wild coho is up about 15 percent from the 10-year average,” a WDFW report adds. “It’s also an increase of 113,000 fish from the projected returns for 2018. Bright spots include mid- and South Sound rivers such as the Green, Puyallup, and Nisqually as well as marine areas 11 and 13.”

However, Hood Canal expectations are lower and exploitation rates are dropping from 65 percent to 45 percent and that may affect fisheries, and the escapement goal for the Snohomish is being bumped up to 50,000 due to concerns about recent years’ returns, and that may impact fisheries.

On the Coast, WDFW says, “The number of coho returning to Grays Harbor is forecasted at 135,900 fish, up from 93,800 in 2018. Fishery managers expect coho fisheries in Grays Harbor will be more robust in 2019 than last year.”

To the south, just over 900,000 coho are predicted back to the Columbia (537,000 earlies, 359,000 lates), about three-quarters of a million more than actually did in 2018, and allowing for a higher exploitation rate in the ocean and river — “I’m kind of excited for the first time in three years,” says WDFW’s ocean manager Wendy Beeghley — but accessing them in the Columbia may be tricky.

“The total forecast – including upriver brights and tules – of fall chinook to the Columbia River is 340,400 fish,” WDFW reports. “That’s about half of the 10-year average and is down slightly from 2018’s forecast of 365,600. Approximately 290,900 fall chinook actually returned last year. Fisheries for fall chinook will likely be limited in several areas of the Columbia River due to low returns both of fall chinook and ‘B-run’ steelhead bound for the Columbia and Snake river basins.”

The B-run forecast is 8,000, “a player in a our Columbia River discussions,” according to WDFW manager Ryan Lothrop. Recent years saw rolling restrictions to protect the Idaho-bound stock.

Just under a quarter million wild and hatchery Puget Sound Chinook are expected, just slightly down from the 2018 forecast.

“The projected return of 217,000 hatchery chinook is down 13,500 fish from 2018 but 11 percent above the 10-year average,” WDFW reports. “Continued low returns to mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish will continue to limit fisheries.”

As for accessing Skokomish River hatchery kings, which have been off limits for several seasons now over a boundary dispute, Puget Sound manager Mark Baltzell says that WDFW is still talking with the Skokomish Tribe about access and that getting anglers back on the water “is a goal of ours.”

Lake Washington sockeye are expected at 15,000 and change, “down 82 percent from the recent 10-year average,” and less than HALF of 2018’s lowest run on record, but Baker River reds are better, 33,737, “up 6 percent over the recent 10-year average, makes a fishery a possibility,” WDFW says.

As for pinks, it looks very poor, some 604,146 to Puget Sound streams, down from 2017’s preseason forecast of 1.5 million, but about 100,000 more than actually came back. Still, it would be among the lowest runs on record back to 1959, due to the hit the fish took at sea during the height of The Blob and poor river conditions when they returned to natal streams.

“We’re digging out of a pretty big hole,” said Aaron Dufault, a state stock analyst.

“We’re probably not going to have our bonus bag limit in the salt and in some of our rivers,” added Baltzell.

The Sound forecast of 1.035 million fall chum is down from 2018 but in line with 2017.

“Several areas, such as north Puget Sound rivers, are expected to have very low returns of wild chum, similar to recent years. Anglers should not expect to see chum fisheries in these areas,” WDFW reports.

But things are brighter for chums in the South Sound and Hood Canal.

Briefing meeting-goers, the agency’s Marissa Litz spoke to multiple blobs, El Ninos and La Ninas since 2013 leading to “a lot of instability across food webs” for salmon, including lower body sizes and fecundity for many stocks, but also surprisingly high returns in places, namely Alaska.

https://player.invintus.com/?clientID=2836755451&eventID=2019021004

The release of the forecasts, drummed up by state and tribal fishery biologists over the winter, marks the first step in setting recreational, tribal and commercial spring, summer and fall seasons in Washington waters.

This year’s NOF — the 35th since the process was initiated in 1984 — will have a focus on what fisheries can be held without jeopardizing southern resident killer whales, according to the state agency’s Fish Program manager Ron Warren at the outset of today’s meeting at the Lacey Community Center.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” he said in a press release last week. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

Prompted by a question from Norm Reinhardt of the Kitsap Poggie Club during the meeting Warren expressed caution that efforts to increase hatchery Chinook production — 24 million in Governor Inslee’s proposed budget — would lead to more fishing opportunities, noting that underlying impact rates on ESA-listed wild kings still govern seasons.

That makes river fisheries all the more important, angling advocate Frank Urabeck pointed out.

“Let’s do better for sportfisheries in the terminal areas,” he stated.

As for how the new Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada will affect this year’s seasons, Phil Anderson, the chair of the Pacific Fishery Management Council was hesitant to say that reductions in northern interceptions would increase fishing opportunities in Puget Sound but would instead “alleviate” impact rates on stocks in our southern fisheries.

North Of Falcon Salmon Season Setting Begins Feb. 27; Meetings Scheduled

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

State fishery managers have scheduled a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in setting salmon fishing seasons for 2019, starting with the annual statewide salmon forecast meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE 2018’S POTENTIAL SALMON FISHERIES TO THE PUBLIC AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will present initial forecasts compiled by state and tribal biologists of the 2019 salmon returns at the meeting scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. S.E., Olympia.

That meeting is one of more than a dozen sessions scheduled at various locations around the state as part of this year’s salmon season-setting process. A list of the scheduled meetings can be found online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

State fishery managers rely on input from anglers, commercial fishers, and others interested in salmon as they work to develop this year’s fisheries, said Ron Warren, head of WDFW’s fish program.

“It’s important for us to hear what the public has to say about salmon fisheries,” Warren said. “We’re trying to make that easier this year by making video of some of the major public meetings available online. And we’ll again take public input electronically on our fishery proposals.”

Additionally at the upcoming meetings, fishery managers will discuss steps to protect southern resident orcas from disruptions from fishing vessel traffic and ways to consider the whales’ dietary needs in the fishing season-setting process.


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The declining availability of salmon – southern resident orcas’ primary prey – and disruptions from boating traffic have been linked to a downturn in the region’s orca population over the past 30 years.

“We’re working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop tools to assess the effects of fisheries on available prey for orcas,” Warren said. “These upcoming meetings provide opportunities for the public to understand the steps we’re taking to protect orcas this year.”

In addition to attending meetings, other ways the public can participate include:

  • Plenary session: State and tribal co-managers plan to hold an informal discussion during the public meeting, Wednesday, April 3, in Lynnwood. Details will be available on the webpage listed above. 
  • Meetings on video: The department intends to provide video of several public meetings. More information will be available online soon.

The annual process of setting salmon fishing seasons is called “North of Falcon” and is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). The council is responsible for establishing fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

The PFMC is expected to adopt final ocean fishing seasons and harvest levels at its April 11-15 meeting in Rohnert Park, Calif. The 2019 salmon fisheries package for Washington’s inside waters is also expected to be completed by the state and tribal co-managers during the PFMC’s April meeting.

Yuasa: Lots Of Midwinter Blackmouth, Shellfishing Ops; Ode To Jensen’s Smokehouse

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

We are lucky to live in an area of the country where anglers have a legitimate chance to catch salmon year-round, and much of that is accomplished by a program requiring hatchery chinook and coho to be adipose fin clipped prior to release.

Washington has the largest hatchery production on the planet, which annually pumps out more than 200-million juvenile fish in hundreds of state, tribal and federal hatcheries. Since the mid-1990s mass-marking has played a critical role with salmon management to keep sustainable fisheries open while doing our due diligence of recovering wild salmon stocks.

HAPPY BLACKMOUTH ANGLER. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

A recent Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) memo to Governor Jay Inslee dated May 1, 2018 showed Puget Sound hatchery and wild chinook populations have increased by 14 percent over the past 10-years. Returns of just hatchery chinook to Puget Sound over the last 10-years have increased by 24 percent.

Hatchery production helps an angler identify between an unmarked wild fish versus a hatchery fish, and if it wasn’t for this type of technology, we’d likely be taking up another sport like golf or lawn bowling.

I beg to differ and pick salmon fishing for my pure enjoyment! After all feeling the tug of a hard-fighting salmon is way more satisfying than aimlessly hitting – along with my wicked slice – a golf ball.

Soon after the holiday parties concluded, three key marine areas (central and northern Puget Sound and San Juan Islands) reopened their doors Jan. 1 to some of the best winter blackmouth – a term commonly given to chinook for their dark gumline – fishing.

“What we’re seeing (in Area 7) is some pretty good fishing, but nothing great and I’ve heard of fish in all the top-20 usual spots around the islands,” said Derek Floyd, owner of Anglers Choice Fishing Charters in Anacortes.

Included in those top picks are Clark and Barnes Islands; Sucia Island; Parker Reef; West Beach; Spring Pass; Thatcher Pass; Peavine Pass; Point Thompson; Obstruction Pass; Waldron Island; Lopez Pass; and Presidents Channel.

By far the most hysteria involving winter chinook was central Puget Sound (Area 10) which closed on Jan. 20.

“We saw an unprecedented catch per angler effort with close to half-a-fish per rod,” said Mark Baltzell, a WDFW salmon manager. “We had incredible success and turnout.”

WDFW staff indicated it was some of the best fishing seen in Area 10 for the past several years and the good weather was also a factor for early closure – fishing was supposed to be open through March 30.

WDFW preliminary estimates and fishery projections indicated the Area 10 total encounter guideline of 2,997 chinook had been achieved with 738 boats and 1,561 anglers catching or releasing 3,351 fish (734 were kept).

I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again that making fishing plans sooner than later will guarantee you more time on the water. It’s a new era where catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (the minimum size limit is 22 inches) will dictate the length of seasons.

In the San Juan Islands (Area 7) winter fishery can’t exceed 3,176 total unmarked encounters and/or exceed 11,867 total encounters, and midway through last month they were at 8 percent or 859 encounters. In northern Puget Sound the encounter ceiling is 10,004 chinook. Areas 7 and 9 have a one hatchery chinook daily limit.

The chinook fishery on the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) has a total encounter of 5,474, and was at 29 percent or 1,597 encounters. Areas 8-1 and 8-2 have a one hatchery chinook daily limit. WDFW plans to provide regular catch updates at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html.

In Puget Sound, seek out chinook at Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Double Bluff off Whidbey Island; Pilot Point; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Mats Mats Bay; Marrowstone Island; and Foulweather Bluff.

Other areas open for winter chinook are south-central Puget Sound (11); Hood Canal (12); and southern Puget Sound (13).

Whatever fishing location whets your appetite just be sure to find the baitfish (herring and candlefish) and you’ll likely find hungry chinook in the mix.

Lastly, I’d go fishing sooner than later as most areas could close in a moment’s notice if catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (the minimum size limit is 22 inches) are achieved. WDFW plans to provide updates at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports_plants.html.

The San Juan Islands winter fishery can’t exceed 3,176 total unmarked encounters and/or exceed 11,867 total encounters. In northern Puget Sound the encounter ceiling is 10,004 chinook; and central Puget Sound (Area 10) it is 3,596. All three areas have a one hatchery chinook daily limit.

Anglers can also make plans to fish for winter chinook in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles to Freshwater Bay (Area 6) when it opens Feb. 1 through April 15 and Sekiu (Area 5) from Feb. 16 through April 30.

If bottom-fishing gets you excited then mark March 8 on your calendar because that’s when Ilwaco, Westport and La Push opens for lingcod.

Other important dates are Feb. 27 when WDFW unveils their salmon forecasts during a public meeting, 9 a.m., at the Lacey Community Center. Other dates include North of Falcon meetings on March 19 at the DSHS Building in Olympia and April3 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites. Final seasons will be adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council on April 11-16 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Sonoma, Calif.

Iconic Greenwood smokehouse closes its doors

After 34 years, the iconic Jensen’s Old-Fashioned Smokehouse in Greenwood, has shuttered its doors but hopefully this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this highly popular store where anglers have gotten their catch custom smoked in a variety of delicious ways.

“It has been a privilege to serve many of my customers over the years, and if I could redo my life, I’d do it all over again,” said Mike Jensen, owner of this family business in North Seattle since 1985. “I’ve gotten phone calls from people as far away as New Jersey who’ve said our smoked salmon is the best. Those kinds of comments really helped save the day and were very gratifying.”

JENSEN’S SMOKEHOUSE WAS IN BUSINESS ON GREENWOOD AVENUE IN NORTHWEST SEATTLE FOR 34 YEARS, SMOKING AS MUCH AS 3,000 POUNDS OF SALMON A DAY DURING PEAK SEASON. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Jensen – whose parents started a smokehouse in Bremerton many decades ago – says keeping his business going has been very tough the last five years where he employed up to 25 workers at peak periods from summer through fall. During slow times they’d produce about 300 pounds of smoked products per day, but during busy months they’d generate about 3,000 pounds daily.

“Hiring workers has been difficult in recent years as well as other issues like wage increases so I just felt it was time to retire,” said Jensen who is 64. “My wife (Kathy) retired a couple years ago and our 30-year anniversary is coming up (in February) so this is a nice way to launch into our next decade of marriage and walk into the sunset.”

Running the business hasn’t been easy as his wife and their home is located at the Lake Limerick Country Club near Bremerton. This meant Mike spent weekdays away from home and his beloved family.

“We love to play golf and pickleball, go on long hikes and water ski on the lake, and now I’ll get more time to do those kinds of special things,” Jensen said. “I’d also like to travel south in the winter to warmer places where I won’t hear my teeth chattering.”

Jensen’s commitment to his company was a family affair. Over the years, his son Scott and two daughters Mariah and Theresa helped with bookkeeping and the front counter and prepped and packaged products. Each of his kids have moved onto other successful ventures, but all learned how a company functions at the family smokehouse.

Their custom work was beloved by customers as fish or meat/poultry products were hand cut, filleted and each batch brined then hot or cold smoked with care that included specialty toppings like garlic and pepper. Double pepper was one of my favorites! Each of the finished products were then vacuum-sealed and date stamped for freshness.

They also sold products to retail grocery stores like QFC, Uwajimaya and to vendors at Pike Place Market. Their closing will leave a void in the smoked seafood industry.

“It’s a pretty serious disappointment that we couldn’t keep the business going,” said Jensen where his 34-year-old company has stood in a building erected in 1955.

The building is expected to be demolished by 2020 and replaced with a four-story townhome although current Jensen employees are trying the reopen the business for 12 months and then hopefully relocate elsewhere.

“It has been an honor to serve the community for so long and I’m glad for what I have accomplished in life,” Jensen said.

Dig into this shellfish news

There’s nothing more fun then digging up your favorite shellfish during the winter time especially when oysters are in prime eating condition.

The only overriding factor is that winter low tides occur in the dark so packing along a powerful lantern coupled and flashlight or headlamp is vital when hitting your favorite Puget Sound and Hood Canal beach.

In Whatcom County, Birch Bay State Park in Whatcom County is open year-round for shellfish and is a great oyster beach. In Jefferson County, Shine Tidelands State Park is an excellent beach for Manila, littlenecks and butter clams. Belfair State Park located in Mason County is productive for mainly oysters.

In Hood Canal, Dosewallips State Park is excellent choice for oysters and clams. Eagle Creek near Lilliwaup is a good spot for oysters. Point Whitney Lagoon and Tidelands and Wolfe Property State Park are decent for clams and oysters. In Kitsap County, Port Gamble Tidelands has acres of clams. The Quilcene Bay Tidelands is a good clam digging spot. Decent oyster beaches are Triton Cove, Twanoh State Park and West Dewatto.

Best upcoming low tides are Feb. 1-5; and Feb. 15-22. For tides, go to http://www.saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/washingtonsites.html.

Remember all eastern mainland beaches from Everett into southern Puget Sound are closed due to unsafe pollution levels. For details, go to WDFW website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/beaches/2019_ps_clam_oyster_seasons.pdf.

Be sure to follow all the shellfish rules, daily limits, and gathering etiquette such as filling-in all holes, shucking all oysters and leaving shells on the beach where you found them.

For emergency closures, call the marine biotoxin hotline at 800-562-5632 or visit the DOH website at www.doh.wa.gov Check the state fisheries hotline at 866-880-5431 and website at http://wdfw.wa.gov

Here are next dates for those looking to hit the coast for razor clams (WDFW usually gives final notice on openings a week before each series of digs): Feb. 1, 4:48 p.m. is plus-0.2 feet at Twin Harbors and Copalis; Feb. 2, 5:28 p.m. is 0.0 at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Feb. 3, 6:04 p.m. is -0.1 at Twin Harbors and Copalis. Other tentative dates are Feb. 15, 3:11 p.m. is 0.4 at Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Feb. 16, 4:08 p.m. is -0.3 at Twin Harbors, Copalis and Kalaloch; Feb. 17, 4:59 p.m. is -1.0 at Twin Harbors, Copalis, Mocrocks and Kalaloch; Feb. 18, 5:46 p.m. is -1.4 at Twin Harbors, Mocrocks and Kalaloch; Feb. 19, 6:31 p.m. is -1.5 at Twin Harbors; Feb. 20, 7:14 p.m. is -1.3 at Twin Harbors; and Feb. 21, 7:56 p.m. is -0.8 at Twin Harbors.

Word on NW Salmon Derby Series

We’ve just wrapped up the first two derbies in the series – Resurrection Salmon Derby and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic – and each was a great success with a good turnout and plenty of winter chinook around to catch.

THE GRAND PRIZE BOAT FOR THE 2019 NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

Another successful boat show ends Feb. 2 with many getting their first looks at the sleek grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston. The boat is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo. Other sponsors who make the derby series a success include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; 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 2018 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of our sponsor Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.

Next up in the derby series is the sold-out Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 7-9 (http://fridayharborsalmonclassic.com/). That will be followed by the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby March 8-10 (http://gardinersalmonderby.org/); and Everett Blackmouth Derby March 16-17 (http://www.everettblackmouthderby.com/).

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 Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22.

For derby details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.
I’ll see you on the water!

 

Yuasa Reviews Washington 2018 Salmon Seasons, Looks Ahead To Halibut, Shrimping

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

The months are flying by faster than a coho hitting your bait in the prop wash.

It felt like “Yesterday” – an ode to a classic Beatles song – when we gathered in Lacey on Feb. 27 to see what the salmon forecasts had in store for us. Now a season package is “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” – did you say Stevie Wonder? – for anglers to digest and begin making plans on where to wet a line.

The process known as “North of Falcon” (NOF) culminated April 6-11 in Portland, Oregon, and I was on-hand as a sport-fishing observer.

JUSTIN WONG HOLDS UP A NICE KING SALMON HE CAUGHT LAST SUMMER IN THE OCEAN OFF WESTPORT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

When proposed seasons came to light in mid-March it was like a feisty trophy king tugging on end of a line, which after a long battle unhooked itself at the boat causing the lead weight to smack you right in the eye.

While grief and a swollen black eye set in, you might have been down in the dumps. But, my mantra has been to never whine about what you can’t do or lost (the trophy king in paragraph above), and more on making the most of the present moment.

Life throws you lemons so make sweet lemonade because if you don’t your head will go into a swift-moving tidal tail-spin and turn your fishing line into a messy tangled web of hurt.

The initial good news is environmental conditions – El Nino, warm water temperatures, a “Blob” and droughts – that have plagued us with restrictions going back to 2015-16 appear to be in the rear-view mirror.

Secondly, was the warmth (albeit mixed feelings by some NOF attendees) of unity and transparency between user groups despite a usual difference in opinions over how the whole pie of sport, tribal and non-tribal fisheries was divvied up.

These are signals of “baby steps” in a complicated process that long has been filled with arguments, bitterness, cultural indifference, protests and a fight over that “last salmon” dating back to Boldt Decision.

The true litmus test of how long this “hand-holding” philosophy will last between all parties is essential as we move forward to ensure our iconic Pacific Northwest salmon runs will be around for generations to come. Even more so as we carry the torch of a long-term Puget Sound Chinook Management Plan to the federal fishery agency’s table later this year, which will dictate how we fish from 2019 to 2029 and beyond.

“Now that we’ve finished this process we need to work on being responsible with conservation, habitat issues and simply change our philosophy to create a long-term management plan,” Ron Warren, the WDFW salmon policy coordinator said at conclusion of Portland meetings.

While being mindful of that briny future, let’s go over highlights of our fisheries at hand.

A positive are extended seasons – something that hasn’t happened for several years – for hatchery coho in northern Puget Sound (Area 9) from July through September, and non-select coho in central Puget Sound (Area 10) from June through mid-November. The Puget Sound coho forecast is 557,149.

Another shining star is a South Sound hatchery chinook forecast of 227,420 up 21 percent from 10-year average and a 35 percent increase from 2017.

The northern Puget Sound summer hatchery chinook catch quota is 5,563 – a similar figure to 2017 – and is expected to last one-month when it opens in July.

The elevated forecast is a blessing when south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) opens June 1 especially in popular Tacoma-Vashon Island area. A central Puget Sound hatchery chinook fishery starts July 16 with a cap of 4,743. Area 10 has a coho directed fishery in June at popular places such as Jefferson Head-Edmonds area.

A hatchery king season opens at Sekiu on July 1, and Port Angeles on July 3. Both switch to hatchery coho in mid-August through September.

A summer king fishery in San Juan Islands (Area 7) opens July to August, but September is chinook non-retention.

Late-summer and early-fall coho fisheries will occur in Areas 5, 6, 7, 8-1, 8-2, 11, 12 and 13.

On coast, Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay open daily starting June 23, and Westport opens Sundays to Thursdays beginning July 1. Hatchery coho quotas are same as 2017 although chinook quotas are down a decent amount. The popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery opens Aug. 1.

On freshwater scene, a sockeye forecast of 35,002 to Baker River is strong enough to allow fisheries in Baker Lake from July 7-Sept. 7, and a section of Skagit River from June 16-July 15.

The Snohomish, Skykomish and Snoqualmie open Sept. 16 for coho. Sections of Skykomish, Skagit and Cascade open for hatchery chinook beginning June 1. For details on seasons, visit WDFW at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.

Bounty of May fishing options

There’s nothing more exciting than pulling up a pot loaded with prawn-size spot shrimp during a season that begins May 5.

“I am more positive this year on our spot shrimp projections than the last couple of years,” said Mark O’Toole, a WDFW biologist who is retiring May 18 after an illustrious 36 years with the department, and many thanks for your valued input on shrimp and other fish policies!

BIG PRAWN-SIZE SPOT SHRIMP COME INTO PLAY IN THE MONTHS AHEAD AROUND THE PUGET SOUND REGION. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

“In general, last year was another good season with relatively high abundance,” he said. “The catch per boat ended up being higher for all areas.”

Look for good shrimping in Strait; San Juan Islands; east side of Whidbey Island; central, south-central and northern Puget Sound; and Hood Canal. Test fishing conducted this spring showed marginal abundance in southern Puget Sound.

Hit pause button on spring chores since trout fishing in statewide lowland lakes is now underway.

Justin Spinelli, a WDFW biologist says 460,000 trout went into Puget Sound region lakes on top of 500-plus statewide lakes planted with 16,840,269 trout – 2,171,307 of them are the standardized size averaging about 11 inches compared to 8-inches in past seasons.

If you prefer a large-sized halibut then head out on May 11. The Washington catch quota is 225,366 pounds down from 237,762 in 2017, and a bump up from 214,110 in 2016, 2015 and 2014. Dates for Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Strait/Puget Sound are May 11, 13, 25 and 27. Depending on catches other dates are June 7, 9, 16, 21, 23, 28 and 30. Ilwaco opens May 3 with fishing allowed Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Once you get your halibut fix add some black rockfish and lingcod to the cooler. Ilwaco, Westport, Neah Bay and La Push are open for both, and some Puget Sound areas are open for lingcod.

NW Salmon Derby Series hits pause button

While we take a break from a spectacular winter derby series be sure to keep sight of the PSA Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 13-15.

2018 NORTHWEST SALMON DERBY SERIES GRAND PRIZE BOAT. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

More great news is Edmonds Coho Derby on Sept. 8 and Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 22-23 – the largest derby on West Coast – are likely back on “must do” list. In mean time, check out derby’s grand-prize KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat powered with Honda 150hp motor and 9.9hp trolling motor at Anacortes Boat & Yacht Show on May 17-20 at Cap Sante Marina. The $65,000 boat also comes on an EZ-loader trailer, and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; custom WhoDat Tower; and Dual Electronic stereo. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

I’m sprinting out the door with rod in hand so see you on the water!

Sportfishing Leaders React To 2018 Salmon Seasons

Northwest salmon anglers are digesting news from the just-concluded season-setting process, which brought — as it always does — a mix of tasty, so-so and stomach-turning results.

Puget Sound and Southern Oregon anglers should be happier than in recent years, Washington Coast and Buoy 10 fishermen will be somewhat disappointed, and Skokomish River egg drifters are gnashing their teeth — again.

SILVER SALMON ANGLERS FISH AMIDST A BLIZZARD OF SEAGULLS AT POSSESSION BAR DURING 2014’S EVERETT COHO DERBY. THE PAST TWO YEARS’ DERBIES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO RESTRICTED FISHERIES, BUT THIS YEAR’S LOOKS TO BE BACK ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Those are very broad brush strokes and we’ll all be able to drill deeper into the details of Chinook and coho seasons as the days and weeks go by and the LOAF, or list of agreed-to fisheries, is posted, singling out our waters for their 2018 opportunities or looking elsewhere for different ones.

In the meanwhile, there’s some reason for optimism in the sportfishing community, including from Gabe Miller, who says there’s “a lot to look forward to this season, particularly in the Puget Sound region.”

“We are looking at substantially more coho opportunity than we have the past few years, especially in North Puget Sound,” says Miller, who works at Sportco in Fife and is vice president of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Another bright spot is South Sound Chinook, which should provide anglers with plenty of harvest opportunity this summer and through the fall.”

He said that in the wake of 2016’s and 2017’s fishery restrictions, which affected coho the hardest, 2018’s seasons “should look a little more like what anglers were used to seeing in the past.”

A WDFW CHART OUTLINES MARINE AREA FISHERY TIMING FOR CHINOOK AND COHO. (WDFW)

Mark Yuasa, the boating and fishing director for the Seattle-based Northwest Marine Trade Association, said that these days salmon anglers need to be mobile with their boats.

“I’m pretty happy about what’s in store for anglers in late-summer and early-fall for coho fishing in Puget Sound, which is something we haven’t had for several years. We’ll also have some decent summer Chinook fisheries in certain areas,” he said.

While Puget Sound salmon are rebounding from the Blob, Columbia River Chinook are still in a bit of a rough patch, with this year’s Washington and North Oregon Coast quota dropping by 40 percent.

That’s not the best of news for Astoria, Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay, but there will still be good numbers of salmon caught out here, thanks to a coho quota of 42,000, the same amount as last year and which held up into early September.

“We are cautiously optimistic with the seasons set for Marine Area 1 and the Columbia River,” says Liz Hamilton, NSIA’s executive director. “The managers did a good job at getting close to management objectives, and we are hoping the seasons proceed as planned. The numerous stock constraints this year were challenging. With any luck, the upriver brights will show enough strength by mid-September to provide some extra fishing time to the river above Buoy 10.”

“Fingers crossed,” she added.

GUIDE BOB REES NETS A CHINOOK AT BUOY 10. THIS YEAR’S FISHERY WILL BE A DEPARTURE FROM RECENT ONES, WHAT WITH ITS ONE-SALMONID LIMIT FROM AUG. 1-24 DUE TO ONE OF THE SMALLER RETURNS OF THE PAST DECADE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Well south of the mouth of the big river, Chinook anglers will be able to get back on the ocean between Humbug Mountain and the California border, which was closed last year, and ODFW is touting a “strong forecast” of fall kings back to the Rogue as one of the coast’s “bright” spots.

Oregon Coast coho are down, but there’s still enough for a 35,000 hatchery silver quota, with limited September fishing for wild and clipped coho.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the biologists and run modelers and fishery managers are breathing a collective sigh of relief that, finally, it’s all over, and the whole pile of paperwork is now headed for the feds’ desk for them to, hopefully, make faster work than they have with the Skagit-Sauk steelhead sign-off.

At least one state source says that this year’s extraordinary “plenary session,” which brought Washington and tribal fisheries leaders together last week, was a “huge success” and played a key role in helping the comanagers reach an agreement on schedule.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SPEAKS DURING THE PLENARY SESSION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

In 2016, talks between the state and tribes dragged on for a month and a half before a deal was struck.

“This year there was a feeling of unity among all parties involved in a process that has long been a bitter battle filled with arguments, cultural indifference and over who was going to catch that ‘last salmon’ dating back to the Boldt Decision,” said NMTA’s Yuasa. “It was a good feeling to get everyone for the most part on the same table to address issues for the upcoming fishing seasons and save salmon populations, which are an iconic piece of Northwest history. We all need to swallow a bitter pill from time to time, but in the end you’ll find some exciting fishing this year.”

He was on hand during that one-hour say-what-you-wish confab in which sport and tribal fishermen talked about the importance of salmon habitat, heritage and the problems of pinnipeds.

So too was Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line. He expressed mixed feelings about what he heard in that packed Lynnwood hotel room and what eventually came out of another in Portland.

THE OUTDOOR LINE HOST TOM NELSON (RIGHT) LISTENS AS NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS SPEAKS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“I’m disappointed that the nontribal part of the allocation took the biggest part of the cut and the Makahs will keep fishing at the same level as last year,” he said on a last-minute Chinook hangup yesterday. “Even a token movement on their behalf would have given something to the feeling of the plenary session.”

Essentially, impact rates on low mid-Hood Canal Chinook stocks put Puget Sound fisheries in jeopardy, so state managers reduced the coastal king guideline and there were losses in Areas 8-1 and 9.

“That said, we’re going coho fishing in Admiralty Inlet in September,” Nelson said.

That’s the best place, by catch stat, to put out herring strips or cast from the beach for silvers in late summer. Last year it wasn’t even available to boaters, and only through Labor Day for shore fishers, due to very low forecasted Skagit and Stillaguamish coho returns.

And while Nelson called losing September Chinook fishing in the San Juan Islands “brutal,” he noted it would help address starving orca issues, as Fraser-bound kings are a key feedstock for the marine mammals.

The Makah Tribe’s Russ Svec was among those who spoke during the plenary session, saying, “Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice.”

But one person who wasn’t buying the good feels was longtime sportfishing advocate Frank Urabeck, who was angry that there still is no resolution to the Skokomish River problem, which leaves recreational anglers unable to access state-hatchery-reared Chinook and coho in the southern Hood Canal stream.

“What is a shame is that the other Puget Sound tribes let this happen, making a mockery of the recent NOF state/tribal ‘Kumbaya’ plenary session,” Urabeck said.

A SIGN POSTED ALONG THE SKOKOMISH RIVER BY THE SKOKOMISH TRIBE WARNS ANGLERS AWAY FROM THE BANKS AS 2016’S RETURN OF CHINOOK TO THE STATE HATCHERY FILL THE RIVER. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

He also laid blame at the feet of WDFW Fish Program Manager Ron Warren and other state officials for failing to get the fishery restarted, and expressed doubt that it’s all about a reservation boundary dispute for the Skokomish Tribe.

“It is more likely there are other self-interest reasons and the tribe is just using the land ownership claim to significantly increase their harvest of Chinook salmon, including ESA-listed natural origin fish,” Urabeck said.

He’d gone so far as to call for a new nontribal commercial fishery in Hood Canal, where fall Chinook can otherwise be difficult for recreational anglers to catch, to access the state share.

Urabeck claimed that some observers feel the river has been lost to sport fishing and said that many anglers don’t feel public money should fund WDFW’s George Adams hatchery.

FRANK URABECK, LEFT, CHECKS HIS NOTES DURING A RALLY HELD AT THE STATE OF WASHINGTON’S GEORGE ADAMS SALMON HATCHERY THE FIRST SUMMER THAT THE SKOKOMISH WAS NOT OPEN FOR SPORT FISHING DUE TO A CLAIM THAT THE ENTIRE WIDTH OF THE RIVER WAS PART OF THE SKOKOMISH RESERVATION. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Radio’s Nelson might have summed up the whole months-long salmon-season-setting process best for all parties.

“Every North of Falcon you’re sort of left with that kissing-your-sister feeling,” he quipped.

He reiterated his support for working with the tribes on a host of problems facing Western Washington salmon.

“Now let’s move forward from here with the tribes,” Nelson said. “Let’s reach out to the Stillys [Stillaguamish Tribe] and stand shoulder to shoulder with them” on a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner’s recent proposed conservation hatchery and marine predation issues.

Sport, Tribal Fishermen Speak As One On Salmon Habitat, Recovery Issues

Yesterday was a “historic” and “unprecedented” day at North of Falcon in the words of two longtime recreational angling observers of the annual salmon season-setting negotiations.

In a Lynnwood hotel conference room packed nearly to the gills, tribal and state fishermen spoke out on the importance of habitat and working together on key issues affecting Washington Chinook, coho and other stocks.

WDFW’S RON WARREN AND NWIFC’S LORRAINE LOOMIS ADDRESS A CROWD OF ABOUT 100 DURING YESTERDAY’S STATE-TRIBAL PLENARY SESSION,  A NEW CONFAB ADDED TO THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF THE ANNUAL NORTH OF FALCON SALMON SEASON NEGOTIATIONS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Ron Garner, president of Puget Sound Anglers, one of if not the state’s most important salmon fishing organizations, said that if all fishermen worked cohesively, we could “move mountains.”

All in all, it was not what you might have expected when these historically at-odds groups get together, and one of the final speakers referenced that history of animosity.

“It’s a bit weird,” the Lummi Nation’s G.I. James said. “It’s the first time I’ve been with a bunch of (sport) fishermen and haven’t heard, ‘Why are the nets all the way across the river?'”

Indeed, many outstanding issues remain unresolved — the Skokomish and the state-reared hatchery salmon we can’t access in the river because of the boundary claim of the tribe there; the hold-up on the Point No Point ramp; the state’s challenge of the culvert case.

But with the ESA listings, the runs’ continued struggles, pinniped predation on salmon and steelhead a real problem not only for the fish and fishermen of all fleets but also starving southern resident killer whales, and the human footprint on the region only growing over the coming decades, Tuesday afternoon marked what might one day go down as a watershed moment.

“The time for fighting over allocation is over. It’s time to focus on habitat. It’s time to fight the people and the animals that are killing more fish than we are,” said Tom Nelson, cohost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Outdoor Line, afterwards.

WDFW STAFFERS PREPARE TO OUTLINE POTENTIAL 2018-19 SALMON FISHERIES EARLIER IN THE DAY AT THE LYNNWOOD EMBASSY SUITES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

HE WAS AMONG THE AUDIENCE TUESDAY AFTERNOON AS tribal fishermen and others filed into the room where state salmon managers had been discussing potential fisheries with recreational anglers earlier in the day.

Billed as a “plenary session,” it came out of calls by some in the sportfishing world to open the closed-door state-tribal negotiations over the harvestable surplus of fish, but in fact ended up allowing both sides to hear the other.

After a brief introduction, Ron Warren, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Program manager, handed the microphone over to Lorraine Loomis, who heads up the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission as well as the Swinomish Tribe’s Fisheries Department.

Loomis reflected on her long involvement in North of Falcon, which essentially arose out of the Fish Wars and Boldt Decision of the early 1970s.

At one time splitting the fillets was easier, at least relatively, but with the Blob and allocation issues of the past three years, things have become increasingly heated.

“Right now, we’re fighting over the last fish and that’s not going to work,” Loomis said, adding that more salmon habitat is being lost than recovered.

NWIFC’S CRAIG BOWHAY AND LORRAINE LOOMIS LISTEN AS FORMER WDFW BIOLOGIST AND SPORTFISHING AND HABITAT ADVOCATE CURT KRAMER MAKES A POINT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Loomis left it to NWIFC fisheries director Craig Bowhay to answer questions from the public, the first of which came from a face that would be familiar to him, Pat Patillo, the retired WDFW salmon policy advisor and current sportfishing advocate.

Patillo wanted to know how the tribes felt about increasing hatchery production and how could NWIFC and the state work together towards that end?

Bowhay pointed back to budget cuts at Patillo’s old agency (Warren noted that the 1999 Endangered Species Act listing also played a role in the reduction of state releases from the 73 million range of the 1980s to today’s 38 million in the Sound and coast; the tribes report releasing 34 million last year), and while he said “We’d like to reverse” that trend, noted the challenges of tailoring production to harvest and realistically addressing salmon populations that can and can’t be rebuilt.

But he said that with the plight of orcas, there’s “more acceptance” from the feds of increased releases.

In fact, Governor Jay Inslee recently requested WDFW begin working on that, and it sounds like extra coho eggs were taken last year as a bridge stock for fisheries as more Chinook and areas may be allocated to the whales.

Curt Kramer, the retired North Sound state fisheries biologist and regional manager, stood and called for a “drastic change” in how recovering habitat is talked about. It’s primarily spoken of in terms of relation to salmon and steelhead, but he proposed couching it as “recovering rivers.”

“The Stilly is unraveling from the headwaters down. We need to figure out how to talk with a very loud voice,” Kramer said, drawing applause.

Much is made of tribal connections to the land and salmon but Kramer pointed out that we fishermen have those too, and we should all take advantage of that.

PSA’s Garner said his organization had the same outlook.

“I want to see no more fighting between us,” he said.

Garner pointed to issues all fishermen can work together on, namely seals’, sea lions’ and cormorants’ insatiable appetites for salmonid smolts.

A bit later Bowhay addressed that, saying NWIFC was trying to get more funding to build on the science that’s really beginning to show how much of a predation problem we face.

“Our collective harvest is less than what the marine mammals are taking,” he said, leaving “orcas last in line.”

Bowhay and others made several calls for fishermen to talk to their Congressional representatives, but he also acknowledged that the public at large “is in love with that brown-eyed seal.”

“There’s a lot of education (that needs to be done) to get over that,” he said.

Prompted by Kramer’s comments on the scale of lost habitat in the Central and North Sound over just the past dozen years and whether a better success metric was needed, Bowhay added that more land managers — counties, cities, the agriculture industry, state Departments of Transportation, Natural Resources and Ecology — should include salmon recovery in their core missions.

KING COUNTY LAKE WASHINGTON WATERSHED SALMON RECOVERY MANAGER JASON MULVIHILL-KUNTZ SPEAKS AS WDFW’S WARREN LOOKS ON. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

As it turned out, there was an actual land manager in the room, Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, who works on salmon recovery in the Lake Washington watershed for King County. He said he appreciated the focus on habitat and essentially wanted more tools for implementing actions. Warren promised to get in contact with him.

THEN A QUARTET OF TRIBAL FISHERY MANAGERS IN the audience rose to speak, led off by Sean Yannity of the Stillaguamish Tribe, who recalled how his uncle had closed Chinook fishing on the system 30 years ago.

“He saw the disaster coming,” Yannity said.

He decried that Stillaguamish River kings were still being caught in the saltwater and likened telling his five last tribal fishermen they couldn’t catch any in the 14 miles of the Stilly they can fish for a funeral to “telling a Catholic they can’t take communion.”

Yannity said that the tribes had been “mocked” by the public for their insistence that lost habitat was a big problem and that the Stillaguamish were considered “evil ones” for acquiring 1,000 acres in the watershed for restoration.

THE STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE’S SEAN YANNITY SAYS “EXTINCTION IS NOT AN OPTION FOR US.” (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Saying that “extinction is not an option for us” and that “We have a lot more in common than differences,” Yannity added, “I hope you in Washington state don’t end up like the Stillaguamish Tribe.”

With Russ Svec of the Makah Nation and the Lummi Nation’s James standing by his side, Ed Johnstone of the Quinault Indian Nation said the plenary session was a “first.”

“This is the start if you wish to build a coalition,” Johnstone said, and that dancing around the issues wasn’t going to get us anywhere.

Speaking to the culvert case between the state of Washington and the tribes and which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court later this spring, he asked, “Who is against us? Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association, Such And Such Builders Association … there’s like ten.”

While Johnstone said numerous other states have also joined with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and other angling groups earlier this week filed a SCOTUS brief supporting the tribes’ side.

Svec said he hadn’t seen tribes, recreational and commercial fishermen coming together like this before.

“Today is a good day to see everyone talking with one voice,” he said.

James pointed out that even as local governments fought the state Supreme Court’s Hirst Decision on water and development, they have residents who like to fish, potential allies in the grand cause.

“We can’t ride the fish to zero so there are no problems for developers,” he said.

NORM REINHARDT OF THE KITSAP POGGIE CLUB MAKES A POINT WITH STATE FISHERY MANAGERS EARLIER IN THE DAY. ALSO IN ATTENDANCE WERE MANY PUGET SOUND ANGLERS MEMBERS AND REPRESENTATIVES FROM THREE MAJOR PUGET SOUND MARINE AND TACKLE STORES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

AS THE SESSION CAME TO A CLOSE SO FISHERY MANAGERS could get to the rest of their afternoon salmon meetings, Loomis and Warren had some final thoughts.

“I have to tell you, this is the first meeting I’ve been to at North of Falcon that so many words were spoken about habitat,” said a pleased-sounding Loomis.

Warren, who joked that it was rare for him to get the last word over his counterpart with the tribes, began to choke up slightly.

“I grew up in the agency trying to do the right thing for resources and I’m proud to stand with you,” he said.

I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the North of Falcon-trenches experience that others in our world do, and so I looked for insight on whether what I’d just witnessed was real or just smoke and mirrors.

Mark Yuasa, the former Seattle Times fishing reporter and who currently runs the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating and Salmon Derby Series fronts, had sat a row in front of me, and later in the afternoon tweeted a photo of himself and Loomis posing for a selfie.

“A historic day at NOF meetings that would’ve had Billy Frank Jr. smiling down on this blessed earth! Time to build a new path toward salmon recovery and habitat restoration by all parties. ,” Yuasa wrote on Twitter.

When I got home, I called Nelson the radio show host for his take. He called the meeting “unprecedented and wonderful” and said, “For the first time our real culprit has been pointed out.”

He talked about reducing the predatory effectiveness of pinnipeds, of redefining impacts on salmon to include development and to credit new building that helps the fish.

And if we get a season someday, Nelson promised me a recipe for cormorants.

It would be better than eating crow, which is what we’ll get if all we do is sit and argue and let the salmon dwindle to nothing instead.

Correction, 9:20 a.m., April 6, 2018: The last name of Ron Warren, WDFW Fish Program manager, was misstated in the cutline for the first image as Loomis. It has since been corrected. Apologies for the error.

Yuasa: Salmon Fisheries, Fishery Planning Mark April Doin’s

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

April 2018

This is a very busy time of the year with plenty of salmon fishing options, and many are also making summer plans as 2018-19 seasons are being finalized this month.

Before we chomp away at what the crystal ball has in store for us, let’s focus on spring-fling fishing plans that involve lots of chinook fishing fun. The San Juan Islands and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca have been the main focal point for hatchery chinook especially at places like Coyote, Partridge, Hein, Eastern, Middle and McArthur banks.

KYLE MADISON SHOWS OFF A DERBY-WINNING BLACKMOUTH CAUGHT IN MARCH. THE 16.85-POUNDER TIED FOR FIRST AT THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA SALMON DERBY AND SCORED THE PORT ANGELES ANGLER $2,000. (MARK YUASA, NMTA)

In the San Juan Islands fish are biting at Thatcher Pass; Peavine Pass; Speiden Island; Spring Pass; Clark and Barnes Islands; Parker Reef; Point Thompson; Doughty Point; Obstruction Pass; Waldron Island; Lopez Pass; and Presidents Channel.

The San Juan Islands in Area 7 are open through April 30; and depending on which side of the outer banks you’re fishing on the closing date is either April 15 in Area 6 or April 30 in Area 7.

Even more exciting is the fact that Strait of Juan de Fuca has awakened from its winter slumber.

I love the throwback feeling you get when you drive into the town of Sekiu, and this is by far one of my favorite places to target in spring with options to fish on both sides of a tidal exchange. The doors on this fishery remains open through April 30.

On a low tide, look for baitfish schools and hungry chinook nipping on their heels at the Caves just outside the Olson’s Resort jetty, and then point your boat west to Eagle Point and Hoko Point.

On the flood tide, head east to Slip Point buoy – then mooch or troll – your way down toward Mussolini Rock, the Coal Mine and even further to Pillar Point.

Those who don’t want to travel that far should wet a line in northern Puget Sound, which is open through April 15. Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Possession Bar, Double Bluff off south Whidbey Island, Point No Point and Pilot Point have been the go to places.

Another locale quietly producing decent catches is south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) in Tacoma. Hood Canal (Area 12) is open through April 30, and southern Puget Sound is open year-round.

Other great spring-time options are Columbia River spring chinook, bottom-fishing for lingcod and black rockfish or razor clam digging off the coast, and statewide trout and kokanee fishing.

Word on NW Salmon Derby Series

We’ve hit the pause button on derby series with March ending on a high note!

The Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby March 9-11 saw one of the largest number of tickets sold in some years – 857 compared to 739 last year, plus 232 fish weighed-in.

A tie for top fish was Micah Hanley of Mount Vernon and Kyle Madison of Port Angeles with a 16.85-pound hatchery chinook worth $10,000 and $2,000 respectively. Top prize in a tie-breaker goes to whomever caught the fish first. The total fish weight was 1,891 pounds and fish averaged 8.15 pounds.

The Everett Blackmouth Salmon Derby on March 17-18 saw 125 boats with 383 participants hitting the water and 130 weighed-in. First place went to Sam Shephard of Tulalip with a 11.82-pound fish, which earned a prize of $4,000.

Next up is Bellingham Salmon Derby on July 13-15 hosted by the Bellingham Chapter of PSA.

Be sure to check out grand prize $65,000 KingFisher 2025 Falcon Series boat at the PSA Monroe Sportsman Show on April 20-22 (http://monroesportsmanshow.com/). It is powered with a Honda 150hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ-loader trailer, and fully-rigged with Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; custom WhoDat Tower; and Dual Electronic stereo. Drawing for the boat will take place at conclusion of derby series. For details, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

2018 salmon season setting process update

Final salmon seasons will be adopted at Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting on April 6-11 in Portland, Oregon.

After six weeks of this setting process, negotiations between the state and tribes seem to paint a brighter picture on what anglers can expect in 2018-19 although chinook and coho returns are still in recovery phase after several years of poor ocean and weather conditions.

As of press time for this publication, there was some very early concepts of possibilities, and if all the stars align we could see Puget Sound coho fishing coming back into the mix during late-summer and early-fall from Sekiu clear into Puget Sound. Summer chinook fishing options will closely resemble last year’s package with a few expansions.

Ocean fisheries also came to light, and it could be leaner for chinook and coho although sometimes abundance doesn’t relate to ocean availability so there’s a lot of guessing in terms of what will pan out.

Tentative opening dates at Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay will either be June 23, June 24, June 30 or July 1. A general closure date is Sept. 3 or however long it takes for quotas to get eaten up at each port. The popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery will open Aug. 1.

One hot topic is the killer whale situation as WDFW and federal agencies deal with human interaction on local waterways. WDFW is looking for ways to avoid this, and has proposed various ideas like a sport-fishing closure along the west side of San Juan Island in the summer that has drawn some resistance by those attending the North of Falcon meetings.

Many find the whole process befuddling, and while it’s easy to get discouraged I take the approach to be mobile with my tow vehicle and boat; actively take part in the season-setting process; and be an advocate for salmon recovery.

You can groan about what isn’t happening in your neck of the woods or you can high tail it to where the fishing is good albeit the coast, Puget Sound, Strait or connecting inner-waterways.

Meeting conservation objectives and getting the right folks at WDFW to spearhead the policy front is also of upmost importance as well as maximizing selective salmon fisheries to provide opportunity while protecting poor wild chinook and coho runs.

I’ll get off my soap box as it’s time to go fishing. See you on the water!

2018 Washington Salmon Season Proposals Available For Comment

The latest state salmon season proposals for Puget Sound and its rivers are now available and up for comment.

The options reflect revisions from WDFW’s March 20 meeting with fishermen in Olympia and take the form of a month-by-month matrix by marine area and species and a five-page rundown on freshwater options.

A WDFW MATRIX SHOWS POTENTIAL CHINOOK AND COHO SEASONS IN WASHINGTON’S MARINE WATERS DURING THE 2018-19 SEASON. THE AGENCY IS TAKING COMMENT ON IT OVER THE NEXT WEEK. (WDFW)

Per WDFW, highlights include:

  • Extending the opening for hatchery chinook in Marine Area 10 into late August.
  • Increased fishing for hatchery chinook in Green River.
  • Coho retention (and catch-and-release fishing for other salmon) in Marine Area 10 in June.

Area 9 would also reopen in August and September for coho, though hatchery only, a relief after last year, when following the close of the summer Chinook fishery, angling was essentially limited to bank only through Labor Day and then closed.

Silver fishing would also be nonselective to the south and in the protected waters of the 8s, which were almost entirely closed in 2017.

The San Juans would also be open for any Chinook in August and September.

However, WDFW has dropped several other ideas, including March blackmouth fishing in Marine Area 10, adding Chinook days on Elliott Bay, running the coho season north of Hood Canal’s Point Ayock into July, and a directed fall chum fishery in Area 9.

The latter two were scuttled because of impacts on other weaker salmon stocks.

On the river front, a Skagit coho season is possible, but things on the Stilly are “TBD.”

Hatchery Chinook would be available on the Puyallup, Carbon and Nisqually.

As for the Skoke, it’s marked “Closed, TBD.”

The proposals will also be the subject of a public meeting next Tuesday morning at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites, and subsequent negotiations with the treaty tribes before final seasons are set when North of Falcon wraps up in mid-April.

To find out more and comment, go to WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

Comments are being taken through April 8.

Also available are the latest proposals for Columbia River salmon seasons, which are the subject of an April 2 meeting in Ridgefield.