Tag Archives: pacific ocean

Yuasa’s 2020 Visions: Halibut Highlights, Blackmouth Openers, First Derbies Coming Up

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

This month marks a time when anglers begin gazing into the crystal ball to see what the 2020 fishing season has in store for halibut, salmon and other fish species.

For starters, the good news is halibut chasers can look forward to a more stabilized fishery in marine areas enabling them to make early plans for the upcoming spring season.


“In Area 2A (Washington, Oregon and California) we’ve moved in a new direction that started in 2019 and goes through 2022 where quotas remain status quo barring any unforeseen issues,” said Heather Hall, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fish policy coordinator.

“We’ve added a lot more days of fishing up front in 2020 compared to last year,” Hall said. “It helps knowing we have the catch quota available (there was 39,000 pounds leftover in 2019 Puget Sound fisheries) and how our fisheries did last year.”

In past seasons, the sport halibut fishery would open in early May, but in 2020 the proposal is to open the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 6 to 10) on April 16.
In those two areas, fishing is allowed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from April 16 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

The western Strait (Area 5) will be open Thursdays and Saturdays only from April 30 to May 16; and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from May 16 to June 28. Fishing is open daily from May 22-24 on Memorial Day weekend only.

The northern coast off Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is open Thursdays and Saturdays from April 30 to May 16 and May 28 to June 27, plus Memorial Day weekend on May 22-24.

Just like last year, the southern ports of Westport and Ilwaco (Areas 1 and 2) are open Thursdays and Sundays from April 30 to May 17 and May 28 to June 28; and May 21 only during Memorial Day weekend.

Fishing areas could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved and/or additional fishing dates might be added if quotas aren’t attained.

“The season(s) will last as long as there is available quota,” Hall said. “We aren’t sure what kind of effort and fishing success there will be in that early April opener. It’s been many years since we opened in April so it will be interesting to see how it goes.”

In general, a shift in how the halibut fisheries are devised annually continues to be well received since it provides no last-minute changes or closures that have frustrated anglers prior to 2017 who have made fishing plans well in advance of the dates set forth.

The Area 2A catch quota (includes Washington, Oregon and California) for sport, treaty tribal and non-treaty commercial is 1.5-million pounds, and 89 percent – 1,329,575 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

The total sport halibut catch quota is 277,100 pounds for Washington, and 97 percent – 270,024 pounds – of the quota was caught in 2019.

A breakdown in the sport allocation in Puget Sound-Strait (Areas 5 to 10) fisheries is 77,550 pounds; Neah Bay/La Push (Areas 3 and 4) is 128,187 pounds; Westport (Area 2) is 62,896 pounds; and Ilwaco (Area 1) is 15,127 pounds.

The average weight of halibut in 2019 was 18.5 pounds in Puget Sound-Strait; 17.6 pounds at Neah Bay/La Push; 18.3 pounds at Westport; and 14.5 pounds at Ilwaco.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Feb. 3-7 in Anchorage, Alaska to determine seasons and catch quotas from California north to Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service will then make its final approval on halibut fishing dates sometime in March or sooner.

Facts on winter chinook

The holiday celebrations are in the rearview mirror and it’s time to look at winter chinook fishing options, including a few that began this month.

Central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) are now open for winter hatchery blackmouth – a term used for a chinook’s dark gum-line. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30.

“There wasn’t a lot of bait around in Area 10 when it was last open (fishing closed on Nov. 12) although we managed to release some bigger sized blackmouth,” said Justin Wong, owner of Cut Plug Charter in Seattle. “We didn’t catch a lot of shakers (chinook under the 22-inch minimum size limit) so that is a good thing.”


Lastly, consider getting out sooner than later since early closures hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (fish over the 22-inch minimum size limit).

In central Puget Sound look for blackmouth at Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; northwest side of Vashon Island by the channel marker; Yeomalt Point and Skiff Point on the east side of Bainbridge Island; and Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeastern corner.

In south-central Puget Sound try around the Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island; Southworth Ferry Landing; and Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp.

Hood Canal doesn’t garner as much attention in the winter but don’t underestimate what can be a decent fishery off Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock.

Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) open year-round for hatchery chinook is another overlooked fishery. Good places are Fox Point; Gibson Point; Point Fosdick; Hale Passage; Anderson Island; Lyle Point; and Devil’s Head and Johnson Point.

Other choices on the horizon for winter chinook are the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open Feb. 1 through April 15; northern Puget Sound (Area 9) open Feb. 1 through April 15; and the east side of Whidbey Island (Areas 8-1 and 8-2) open Feb. 1 through April 30.

Salmon season meeting dates set for 2020

It’s never too late to begin making plans to be a part of the sport-salmon fishing season setting process. For the moment the early outlook appears to resemble last year’s fisheries with a few improvements, but more details won’t come to light until later next month.

Tentative meeting dates – Feb. 28, WDFW salmon forecast public meeting at DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia; March 16, North of Falcon public meeting at Lacey Community Center; March 19, North of Falcon public meeting in Sequim; March 23, Pacific Fishery Management Council public hearing at Westport; March 25, North of Falcon public meeting at WDFW Mill Creek office; and March 30, North of Falcon public meeting at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Avenue West in Lynnwood.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt final salmon seasons on April 5-11 at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 West 6th Street in Vancouver, WA.

Specific meeting agendas and times should be known soon. Details: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon.

Oldest salmon derby gets underway

The Tengu Blackmouth Derby – the oldest salmon derby that began prior to and shortly after World War II in 1946 – is held on Sundays 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. starting Jan. 5 through Feb. 23 on Elliott Bay at the Seacrest Boathouse (now known as Marination Ma Kai) in West Seattle.

In previous years, the derby started in October when Area 10 opens for winter hatchery chinook. However, this year’s non-retention of chinook delayed the event to coincide with the Jan. 1 opener. Last year, the derby was cancelled when WDFW decided to shutdown Area 10 just a few weeks after it began.

What makes the derby so challenging is the simple fact blackmouth are scarce around the inner bay during winter months.

The derby is named after Tengu, a fabled Japanese character who stretched the truth, and just like Pinocchio, Tengu’s nose grew with every lie.

In a typical derby season, the catch ranges from 20 to 23 legal-size chinook and has reached as high as 50 to 100 fish although catches have dipped dramatically since 2009. The record-low catch was four fish in 2010, and all-time high was 234 in 1979.

The last full-length season was 2017 when 18 blackmouth were caught and a winning fish of 9 pounds-15 ounces went to Guy Mamiya. Justin Wong had the most fish with a total of five followed by John Mirante with four fish.

It has been a while since a big fish was caught in the derby dating back to 1958 when Tom Osaki landed a 25-3 fish. In the past decade, the largest was 15-5 caught by Marcus Nitta during the 2008 derby.

To further test your skills, only mooching is allowed in the derby. No artificial lures, flashers, hoochies (plastic squids) or other gear like downriggers are permitted. The membership fee is $15 and $5 for children age 12-and-under. Tickets will be available at Outdoor Emporium in Seattle. Rental boats with or without motors are available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Some Dungeness crab fisheries extended into January

The Dungeness crab season along the east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) will remain open daily through Jan. 31 – originally it was scheduled to close after Dec. 31.

WDFW indicates crab abundance can support an additional in-season increase to the harvest shares. Managers made the decision to extend the season to offset a closure that occurred between Oct. 23 through Nov. 28 while crab abundance was assessed.


Elsewhere some sections of northern Puget Sound and Hood Canal are also open daily now through Jan. 31. They are Area 9 between the Hood Canal Bridge and a line from Foulweather Bluff to Olele Point (Port Gamble, Port Ludlow) and the portion of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) north of a line projected due east from Ayock Point.

Crabbers won’t be required to have a Puget Sound Dungeness crab license endorsement or record Dungeness crab retained on a Catch Record Card when crabbing in January in Areas 8-1 and 8-2 and open sections of Area 9 and 12. However, a valid shellfish or combination license is required. The 2019 winter catch cards must be returned to WDFW by Feb. 4.

Sport crabbers are reminded that setting or pulling traps from a vessel is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

NW Fishing Derby Series begins next month in San Juan Islands

The future of the revamped series is just on the horizon with three derbies happening in the San Juan Islands (Area 7), which is a winter chinook fishing hotspot.

They include the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 (sold out but has a waiting list); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000.

Other events soon after are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15 with a $10,000 first place prize; and Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22 with a $3,000 check for the largest fish.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.

The highlight of the series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo.


Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package.

A huge “thank you” to our other sponsors who make the series a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

You can get a first glimpse of the new derby boat pulled with a 2019 Chevy Silverado – provided by our sponsor Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet – during The Seattle Boat Show from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1 at the CenturyLink Field and Event Center in Seattle.

The Northwest Fishing Derby Series is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Grow Boating Program which serves the NMTA’s core purpose—to increase the number of boaters in the Pacific Northwest.

The derby series is the most visible element of the program, which promotes boating and fishing throughout the region by partnering with existing derbies and marketing those events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.

I’ll see you on the water soon!

Yuasa Looks Back At 2019 Salmon Seasons, Towards 2020’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

The holiday “to do” list has pretty much taken priority over getting out on the water, but if you’re like me that also means it’s time to reassess salmon fisheries in 2019 and start thinking about what lies ahead in 2020.

I had a chance to chat with Mark Baltzell, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Puget Sound salmon manager, and Wendy Beeghly, the head WDFW coastal salmon manager, who provided insight about the future and a somewhat forgetful past.


“I believe the best way to describe Puget Sound salmon fisheries overall in 2019 is a mixed bag,” said Baltzell. “We had some unexpected good salmon fishing and returns while others were as poor as the preseason forecasts had predicted.”

“Summer chinook fisheries were for the most part better than we expected despite the reduced seasons,” Baltzell said. “Early on we saw some really good chinook fishing in May and June in southern Puget Sound (Marine Catch Area 13 south of the Narrows Bridge).”

It wasn’t uncommon for Area 13 anglers during those months to hook into a limit of early summer hatchery kings, 10 to 18 pounds with a few larger, off Point Fosdick and Fox Island’s east side at Gibson Point, Fox Point in Hale Passage, northwest corner at the Sand Spit, Toy Point and Concrete Dock “Fox Island Fishing Pier.”
In the past few years, central Puget Sound (Area 10) starting in June has become a hot bed for resident coho – 2- to 4-pounds – and this past summer was no exception to the norm. On certain days you’d find hundreds of boats from Jefferson Head to Kingston and in the shipping lane.

“We had a coho fishery in Area 10 from June through August that was really good and has turned into a successful early summer salmon fishery,” Baltzell said.


The Tulalip Bubble Terminal Fishery within Area 8-2 opened in June and was another location that proved to be fairly decent for early summer kings in the 10- to 15-pound range.

When July rolled around the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 5 and 6) opened for hatchery kings and was off and on for much of the summer.

The San Juan Islands (Area 7) had a brief hatchery king fishery from July 1-31, which saw plenty of fishing pressure and a much higher than expected success rate.

Preliminary WDFW data during the July Area 7 fishery showed 5,310 boats with 11,739 anglers kept 3,019 hatchery kings (10 wild fish were illegally retained) along with 451 hatchery and 982 wild chinook released. The best fishing period occurred from July 1-14. WDFW test fishing showed the Area 7 legal-size chinook mark rate was 84.6 percent and overall mark rate was 78.6.

The summer hatchery king fishery in northern and central Puget Sound (Areas 9 and 10), started off poorly from July 25-28 due to extreme low tides. Once the tidal fluctuation improved as more dates were tacked onto the fishery catch rates picked up rapidly.
During an 11-day fishing period from July 25 to Aug. 4, the success rate in Area 9 was a 0.23 fish per rod average with a total of 7,779 boats with 17,147 anglers keeping 3,446 hatchery chinook (six unmarked were illegally retained) and released 1,124 hatchery and 756 wild chinook plus 697 coho kept and 747 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 88.0 percent.

The Area 10 hatchery chinook fishery was open daily July 25 through Aug. 16 and a total of 7,606 boats with 15,900 anglers kept 3,200 hatchery chinook (17 wild were illegally retained) and released 994 hatchery and 1,579 wild chinook plus 2,013 coho kept and 463 released. WDFW test fishing showed the legal-size chinook mark rate was around 50.0 percent.

Summer hatchery chinook action in south-central Puget Sound (Area 11) stumbled out of the gates when it opened July 1 and was peppered with a few glory moments until it closed Aug. 25 for chinook retention. In Area 11, an estimated 12,264 boats with 22,818 anglers from July 1-Aug. 25 retained 212 chinook and released 164 hatchery and 465 wild chinook.

“We saw a lot more legal-size chinook in Puget Sound than the FRAM (Fishery Regulation Assessment Model) had predicted and more legal hatchery fish around than we had seen in past years,” Baltzell said.

In general, the wild chinook stock assessment seemed to be somewhat better in some parts of Puget Sound. Places like the Tumwater Falls Hatchery in deep South Sound even had a few nice 20-pound females return.

Heading into late summer, the Puget Sound pink returns were off the charts good here and there while other pink runs were downright dismal. Salmon anglers chasing pinks managed to find some excellent fishing from mid-August through September.

“In some places it seemed like we had twice the abundance of pinks and others didn’t get as many as we had thought,” Baltzell said. “The Puyallup did really good and a decent number of pinks pass(ed) over the Buckley fish trap and was up into the historical day numbers. But, the Skagit and Stillaguamish weren’t so good for pinks and it was the same for coho too.”

“At this point were going to be OK in places like the Snohomish for coho,” Baltzell said. “Both the tribes and state did all the things necessary to help ensure we’d exceed our hatchery coho broodstock (goals), and that did eventually happen.”

Other locations like the Green River met coho broodstock goals although that didn’t occur until late last month. In Hood Canal, the Quilcene early coho return came back less than half the preseason expectation and the size of jack coho was much smaller.”

“There was a size issue throughout the Puget Sound area and the lower returns had us taking a precautionary move to a one coho daily limit,” Baltzell said. “It was the right move in retrospect and helped us move more coho into the rivers.”

The mid- and southern-Puget Sound and Hood Canal chum forecast of 642,740 doesn’t appear to be materializing and at this point WDFW downgraded the run to almost half the preseason expectation.

“It is really hard for us as fishery managers to pinpoint the cause for all of it,” Baltzell said. “We can point the finger to marine survival and conditions in the ocean like the warm blob that sat off the coast up to Alaska for a while. We also know the Canadian sockeye runs tanked this year and saw it in our own like Lake Washington that virtually got nothing back.”

The ocean salmon fisheries from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco between June 22 through Sept. 30 encountered a mixed bag of success.

“Fishing was pretty much what I expected it to be,” Beeghly said. “The chinook fishery was slow except up north off Neah Bay where it was pretty good this past summer. The majority of chinook we see in ocean fisheries are headed for the Columbia River and their forecasts were down so the poor fishing came as no surprise.”
Close to a million coho were forecasted to flood the Columbia River this past summer and that too was a downer.

“The coho fishing wasn’t quite as good as I had expected, but we saw some decent fishing at Ilwaco and Westport,” Beeghly said. “The Columbia coho forecast didn’t come back like we originally thought but better than the past three or so years. The hatchery coho mark rate was lower than anticipated.”

Coast wide only 51.1 percent of the hatchery coho quota of 159,600 was achieved, and 41.4 percent of the chinook quota of 26,250 was caught.

Areas north of Leadbetter Point saw a coho mark rate of somewhere under 50 percent and Ilwaco where data was still being crunched might come out to be a little higher than that.

Once the fish arrived in the Lower Columbia at Buoy 10 it appeared the catch of hatchery coho fell well short of expectations with a lot of wild fish released although some glory moments occurred early on.

Coastal and Columbia River chinook forecasts should come to light around the Christmas holidays. The Pacific Fishery Management Council preseason meeting will occur in mid-February. That is just ahead of when Oregon Production Index coho forecasts will be released.

As Baltzell rubbed the crystal ball looking into 2020 it still remains pretty foggy at this point but general expectations aren’t rosy.

“It would be fair for me to say that I wouldn’t expect anything much better in 2020 than what we saw in 2019,” Baltzell said. “We have no forecast information at this point but I wouldn’t expect a rosier outlook as far as chinook goes for next year.”

State, federal and tribal fishery managers in 2020 will be faced with a lot of same wild chinook stock issues as in recent past years like mid-Hood Canal and Stillaguamish. Add on top of that killer whale orca issues as well as the pending Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan that has been looming a dark cloud for the past three years with no end in sight just yet.

“If I had to gauge things out my gut reaction is we’ll likely have to take a more cautionary approach again next year,” Baltzell said.

The WDFW general salmon forecast public meeting will occur Feb. 28 at the DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia. The first North of Falcon meeting is March 16 at the Lacey Community Center and the second meeting is March 30 at the Lynnwood Embassy Suites. Final seasons will determined April 5-11 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, WA.

Final summer ocean salmon sport fishing catch data

Ilwaco (including Oregon) – 44,297 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 4,018 chinook (56% of the area guideline of 7,150) and 53,377 coho (67% of the area sub-quota of 79,800).

Westport – 23,465 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 2,336 chinook (18% of the area guideline of 12,700) and 20,221 coho (34% of the area sub-quota of 59,050), plus 700 pinks.

La Push – 2,076 from June 22 to September 30 caught 449 chinook (41% of the area guideline of 1,100) and 1,752 coho (43% of the area sub-quota of 4,050), plus 206 pinks. Late-season fishery October 1-13 saw 240 anglers with 164 chinook (64% over the fishery guideline) and 16 coho (16% of the fishery quota).

Neah Bay – 10,116 anglers from June 22 to September 30 caught 3,895 chinook (75% of the area guideline of 5,200) and 6,223 coho (37% of the area sub-quota of 16,600), plus 869 pinks. Chinook retention closed July 14.


Dungeness crab fishery reopens in Areas 8-2 and 8-1

The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2) has reopened daily for Dungeness crab fishing through Dec. 31. WDFW says crab abundance remains good indicating that the quota could be increased in-season. Crab pots must be set or pulled from a vessel and is only allowed from one hour before official sunrise through one hour after official sunset.

Dungeness crab fishing is also open daily through Dec. 31 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Areas 4B, 5 and 6); San Juan Islands (Area 7); and northern Puget Sound (Area 9 except waters north of the Hood Canal bridge to a line connecting Olele Point and Foulweather Bluff).

NW Fishing Derby Series hits refresh button in 2020

After 17 wonderful years since the derby series began in 2004, we’ve decided it’s time for a change and rebranded it to the “Northwest Fishing Derby Series.”

Our hope is that anglers will like the direction as we diversify the fish species our events target while boosting the number of derbies to 20 in 2020 up from 14 events in 2019.

New events are the Lake Stevens Kokanee Derby on May 23; For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively; Father’s Day Big Bass Classic on Tenmile Lake at Lakeside, Oregon on June 21-22; and the Something Catchy Kokanee Derby at Lake Chelan on April 18-19.


The highlight is a chance to enter and win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. One of our newest sponsors of the derby – Shoxs Seats (www.shoxs.com) – has provided a pair of top-of-the-line seats that are engineered for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas.

The good news is anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package!

A huge “thank you” to our other 2020 sponsors who make this series such a success are Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Scotty Downriggers; Burnewiin Accessories; Raymarine Electronics; WhoDat Tower; Dual Electronics; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.

First up are the Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2 (already 50 percent of tickets have been sold as of Nov. 13); Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. A new website is currently being designed and will be launched sometime in mid-December but for now, go to http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

In the meantime, take a break from holiday shopping and hit up a lake or open saltwater areas for a feisty fish tugging on the end of your line.

I’ll see you on the water!

Rough Days At Sea Series III: First Trips Offshore

The author’s an old salt now, but his initial trips onto Oregon’s briny blue were memorable in their own ways.

By Jim Pex

When I was of elementary-school age, my father brought me from our hometown in Central Oregon to Winchester Bay to go fishing. Winchester Bay used to be called the salmon capital of the West Coast. In those days there were lots of fish and charters often came in with limits of coho.

Dad got us both seats on a charter boat and I was so excited. Getting to go out on a boat in the ocean was an experience by itself, a thrill beyond all thrills. My father and I were the first to get on board and he quickly selected the seats closest to the transom. No one challenged us for them, as the other fishermen jockeyed for the seats up near the middle of the boat. We just knew these were the best seats.


The deckhand gave us fishing rods and we placed them in the pole holders next to us. Every fisherman had his own pole, including me. Once everyone was seated, the captain gave us some safety instructions and we were underway.

I STILL REMEMBER THE WAVES AS WE headed out. The boat would climb up the tall waves and come crashing down the other side, sending water spraying over the cabin and onto those of us seated in the back of the boat. Each time the water came aboard, my father and I got the worst of it, and it was cold. Now I knew why no one had been seeking the transom seats.

The up and down motion of the boat was constant, and my father was not talking, just trying to keep it together. I doubt we were underway more than 15 minutes before he tossed up breakfast. I saw it coming and quickly looked the other way and covered my ears. I was doing OK, but his unmistakable sounds were soon joined by others on the boat. Dad was able to tip his head over the gunnel and cast his stomach contents into the deep without me seeing all the action.

But a woman sitting behind me had totally lost control. I turned and looked at her at times and she appeared unconscious while her partner held her in her seat. To this day I can still see her. She would awaken, roll around in her seat as the boat moved in the waves, then cast more stomach contents in my direction and lose consciousness again. As if it were a signal, Dad would spew more fluids beside me every time he heard the woman belch forth.


By the time we reached the first can, some others were joining in on the action. Even at my young age, I could not believe people paid good money for this experience. I would cover my ears, close my eyes and turn away from anyone making the guttural sounds and calling out to someone named “Huey!”

Despite the cacophony on deck, I did see a few people catch fish. Even my father’s rod went down, but the deckhand had to bring it in as he was having another conversation with the cold, green waters of the Pacific Ocean.

In spite of it all, I had held up and kept breakfast down for quite some time. Then it happened, my father vomited before I could close my eyes and turn my head. I saw it, and that was all that it took. I heaved up everything.

By now, Dad and I were huddled together trying to cope with the conditions, but sharing the moment each time one of us let go. First, there were the initial tones from the woman behind us, then father and son would join in on the chorus. I was on the inside seat, so I just puked on the floor. The sight of it added to the aroma and I continued to lose control of everything. By this time, neither of us wanted to be on that boat. We were miserable and the seas were not letting up.

My parents were divorced, and I think we made this trip so dad and I could do some bonding. We did.

It seemed like an eternity, but we finally got back to the dock. There the deckhand smiled and handed us our fish. We took them to the cleaning table, but the sight of guts gave both of us the dry heaves. We were weak and exhausted, and there was nothing left to come up. I don’t recall what we did with the fish, but I know that was the last time my father set foot on a boat going onto the ocean.

In later years my father would tell us about the end of World War II and his return to the United States. His company made the trip back to America on the Queen Mary, one of the largest vessels afloat at that time. He related that he puked every day of the crossing, and all he could do was lie on his back in a bunk. If he got up, he puked. I have no idea why he thought he could do a charter fishing trip, but for purposes of bonding, it was memorable.

AS AN ADULT, I OBTAINED EMPLOYMENT IN Eugene and that put me within a couple hours of the ocean. I did not know anyone who had an ocean boat but I just could not get past the call of the sea either. I would take the family to Newport or Winchester Bay and wander the beaches, watching the waves and the sea life that passed by. Then we would always stop by the fish-cleaning station to see what people were catching. It was clear in my mind that I needed a boat.

For weeks I studied the want ads, Craigslist and the Boat Trader looking for something trailerable and affordable. I did not have much of a budget, considering I had a house, four children and a wife. I finally came upon a fiberglass boat that had not been used in a long time. Stored in a barn, it was for sale at a good price and needed some work, which I was willing to do.


I purchased the 20-foot fiberglass Apollo boat and took it home. It was equipped with a V8 engine and an outdrive. There was a slight problem in that we lived in town and did not have much room to store a boat. So I parked it in the driveway and was very proud of my new purchase, a potential dream come true. I don’t think my neighbors were as excited about this apparent eyesore, as they did mention it a few times.

But I shined up the hull, and worked on the engine and got it running. Just one problem: The wooden stringers under the motor mounts were rotten and the boat could not be used until I fixed this problem. The motor needed to be attached to something solid, so I spent hours upside down in the hold with a chisel and hammer cleaning out the old wood and opening up the fiberglass. I was finally able to insert some pressure treated wood and fiber-glassed it in to support the engine. Later I found a cheap depth finder and Loran and installed them as well. I was ready to fish. I just needed a place to go and some brave fishermen to go along.

There was another slight problem: I had never taken a sport boat on the ocean. In fact, I had not been on the ocean since my childhood experience with my father. Checking around with my friends I found two, Hugh and Jim, who said they had ocean experience and would go with me. So on a Friday afternoon, we loaded all our fishing poles and other gear into the boat and left Eugene for Winchester Bay, where we’d heard the bite was on for coho.

A couple hours later we pulled into the parking lot at Winchester and could hardly contain our excitement for the next day’s fishing adventure. The afternoon wind was up but we figured we would be out early and back before it picked up the next day.

None of us had much money, so we slept on the boat that night. The three of us told stories while in our sleeping bags. There wasn’t much room, but it was doable. I found it difficult to sleep because the wind was blowing so hard that it was rocking the boat while it was still on the trailer. We ended up talking most of the night and finally dozed off in the early hours of the morning.

BEFORE DAYLIGHT WE WERE UP AND READY TO GO. One look outside found the fog as thick as pea soup, so we launched and just tied up in the boat basin in anticipation of the fog clearing. Not long after daylight, the wind picked up and blew off the fog.

We three musketeers motored out into the bay and headed for the bar. I saw a few boats go out, so I thought it must be OK. I had no idea what to look for, so I followed the south jetty out. A Coast Guard vessel was sitting on the bar and with an incoming tide, the passage to the ocean did not look too bad. They honked their horn at us, and we honked back, not sure at the time what that meant; heck, maybe they were just being friendly. Hugh and Jim did not say anything, so I just continued out.

As I reflect back on that moment, I’m not sure their silence was from confidence or fear. When we got to the bar, the waves seemed pretty high but they were just rollers, not breaking. Once past the bar, we got our gear in the water and fished for a couple hours without so much as a bite. By this time the tide had changed to outgoing, the wind picked up and the fog rolled back in. I got disoriented in the fog and it took all three of us following a deck compass and moving north to find a jetty.

There was another small problem: Which jetty were we looking at? There is a north jetty and a south jetty. It’s hard to tell which one you are facing when you can’t see the other one in the fog. The Loran worked, but we did not know how to interpret the data.

About this time, the Coast Guard got on the radio to tell boaters they were going to close the bar. If you were out on the ocean, you had best get back in. I looked at my two experts and realized they did not know any more about what to do than I did. It was time for panic with this sudden revelation and my heart rate was doing mach ten. Going in on the wrong side of the jetty could put me on the beach.

The swell was getting tall with the outgoing tide and we were running out of time as we waited outside the jetties. I did not know what to do. Suddenly a charter boat appeared out of the fog, turned around and went back in. I am sure it was divine intervention; the good Lord was pointing the way back home. I quickly lost sight of the charter in the fog, but I now knew which side of the jetty to follow upriver. I hit the throttle just as the Coast Guard was closing the bar to all recreational boats.

The wind was whistling by now and I was trying to get on the back of a swell to ride it in; at least that is what I thought I was supposed to do. Problem was, these were standing waves and the current was running out. I managed to get up enough speed to top a swell, fly down the inside and then jump onto another standing wave.

After what seemed like hours, we reached the inner bay where it made a turn to port. We all breathed a big sigh; we were going to make it. The fog had thinned as we’d run inland and we could see the Coast Guard station now and they were flying two flags. I knew enough to know that meant gale force winds. The three of us were glad to be inside and slowly made our way to the boat landing a few more hundred yards up the river. We had no fish, but were happy to be there.


THERE WERE SEVERAL PEOPLE AROUND THE LANDING, but nobody was volunteering to catch our boat at the dock. I told Hugh and Jim I would motor up easy to the dock into the wind. They could then jump out and hold the boat while I went and got the pickup and trailer.

All went as planned as I inched my way to the dock, where they jumped out and grabbed the railing. I was about to shut off the engine when they shouted that they could not hold the boat in the wind. I went back to the helm and immediately put the boat in reverse. I would simply back up, go around the dock and let the wind push the boat up to the dock. The solution to the wind was that simple.

I put the boat in reverse and started backing up. But there was a problem: As I was looking back toward the transom, I could not get the boat to respond to the wheel. We were not turning as I expected.

Then I heard a loud voice up front and turned around to see Jim hanging from the bow railing at the front of the boat. Both of his hands gripped the rail and his feet were in the water. His head was just high enough over the bow that I could see the fear in his wide eyes. Apparently he had failed to let go of the boat in time and lost his balance. Grabbing the rail on the boat was all that prevented him from doing a swan dive into the water.

“Hang on, Jim,” I yelled, “and I will get you back to the dock.”

For the dock to hold its position, there are steel pilings every 10 feet. When I hit the throttle, the boat jumped forward. In the attempt to get Jim to the dock, I scraped him off on one of the pilings and in a splash, he was in the water. I backed up this time to sounds of more yelling. It was probably better that I could not hear the words in the wind.

Hugh reached out and grabbed Jim by the back of the life jacket and pulled him out of the water and onto the dock. I was doing my best not to laugh, but you can only bite your lip for so long. Somewhere there must be a word for a hilarious disaster. It would be appropriate here – maybe calamity?

The folks around the dock had stopped to watch the show but made no attempt to assist. From shoreside, it had to be funny.

The boat responded now when I shifted in reverse and I went around the dock and let the wind push me in. As I tied off, Jim sloshed up to me and said he was physically OK, but in front of several laughing people, his feelings were a little hurt. I apologized profusely but could not help but laugh too as I watched the water drain from his clothing as he sloshed back up the dock making that “swish, swish” sound on his way to dry land.

We got the boat out of the water, Jim put on some dry clothes and we finally had a good laugh together on the way home.

We had no fish to our credit, but we had had a lifetime of memories from a weekend with more thrills than three guys could have imagined. It all could have ended differently, but it didn’t. NS

Editor’s note: Author Jim Pex is an avid angler based out of Coos Bay and who enjoys fishing for albacore, salmon and rockfish. He is retired and was previously CEO of International Forensic Experts LLC and a lieutenant with the Oregon State Police at its crime laboratory. Pex is the author of CSI: Moments from a Career in Forensic Science, available through Amazon.

Mon.-Thurs. Added For Last Week Of Oregon Central Coast Any-Coho Fishery


From Friday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 29, anglers can keep any legal sized salmon they catch in the ocean on the central Oregon coast after fishery managers increased the popular non-selective coho fishery to seven days a week for the final week of the fishery.


The ocean non mark selective coho fishery between Cape Falcon and Humbug Mountain opened Aug. 31 on a schedule of each Friday through Sunday and open for all salmon including coho. During the first three open periods of the season, anglers have landed a total of 8,935 coho out of the quota of 15,640, which leaves eaving 6,700 coho remaining to be caught.

“Fishery managers felt they could open seven days a week for this last part of the season and still remain within the coho quota,” said Eric Schindler, ocean salmon supervising biologist for ODFW. “The non-selective coho fishery in September has been very popular with most anglers, and adding a few more days will provide a few more chances for anglers to catch some nice coho.”

The daily bag limit is two legal size salmon (Chinook >24”; coho >16”; steelhead >20”).  Anglers are reminded that single point barbless hooks are required for ocean salmon angling or if a salmon is on board the vessel in the ocean.

The all-salmon-except-coho fishery from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain will remain open through the end of October.

For more information about fishing opportunities including the latest regulations, visit https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/

Record Oregon Albacore Catch But Smaller Tuna Too

As Oregon’s recreational albacore fishery has hit new highs this summer, the size of the tuna also appears to be the lowest it’s been over the last decade and a half.

Preliminary stats from state ocean samplers show that the 96,919 brought back to ports up and down the coast through Sept. 8 have averaged just 25.67 inches, more than 3 inches shorter than the average since 2004, 28.9 inches.


So what does that mean?

“I suspect that we have a strong younger age class that is available to the fishery,” says ODFW’s Eric Schindler in Newport. “The 2019 length frequency that I just saw from the commercial fishery has an almost identical footprint to what we are seeing in the recreational fishery.”

Typically, sport anglers don’t go as far out as the commercial boats, but that both fleets are catching similarly sized fish likely indicates a pretty big biomass of them out there. In freshwater, kokanee sizes can be smaller in large year-classes, and bigger in smaller ones.

ODFW stats show a pretty uniform average range of albacore sizes from the Astoria Canyon to the California state line, with Winchester Bay and Newport on the low end (25.23 and 25.31 inches) and Pacific City and Brookings at the high (26.3 and 26.22 inches).

A total of 1,276 have been measured so far this year.

The year 2005 saw the highest average length for albies across the coast, 30.55 inches. Last year’s fish were also on the smaller side overall, averaging 26.5 inches.

Still, 2019 is more than making up for slightly smaller tuna with a catch that is now more than 53 percent higher — and still climbing — than the next closest year, 2012’s 63,167.

“Catch per unit of effort (albacore per tuna angler trip) this year is also the highest observed at 6.6 albacore per angler,” Schindler adds. “For comparison, in 2012 it was 3.9 and 2007 it was 4.4 per trip.”

The year 2007 is when albie fishing exploded off Oregon, with nearly 60,000 landed, roughly as many as were caught in the previous six seasons combined.


A table from Schindler shows that Charleston-based fishermen are reeling in the most tuna, followed by the Winchester Bay and Garibaldi fleets.

That last port was where late August’s Oregon Tuna Classic was held, and according to organizer Del Stephens, it marked quite a turnaround from late July’s out of Ilwaco — “a totally different scene.”

“We went from the fish barely arriving and in scarce numbers to lots of tuna and in some cases within 25 miles of shore for most of August,” he stated in a press release reporting on OTC results. “What a switch, but that’s albacore fishing in the Northwest.”

Interestingly, this year’s new high mark follows two relatively down seasons, with catches from roughly 17,500 to 25,000.

It also comes as NOAA recently warned of a large pool of overly warm surface water off the Northwest Coast. Anglers have been hooking more southerly species this summer, including bluefin, striped marlin, dorado and yellowtail.

Even as that is not good news for our salmon and coolwater ecosystems, if the ocean cooperates for tuna anglers, it could mean larger fish next year.

“Right now, I am hoping that it is a strong incoming year class, because those younger fish should be available next season, but with broader shoulders by then,” Schindler says.

Offshore Lingcod, Other All-depths OR Bottomfish Fair Game Starting Sept. 3


Anglers will be able to fish for bottomfish at any depth beginning Tuesday, Sept. 3. 


The rule limiting fishing to inshore of 40 fathoms, which keeps yelloweye rockfish mortality below the annual limit, was originally scheduled to run through the end of September. However, fishery managers have determined that enough 2019 yelloweye rockfish quota remains to remove the seasonal depth restriction early this year. 

The move to all-depth fishing in early September will give anglers more opportunity to head offshore for lingcod and other bottomfish. In addition, a shift of some fishing effort to deeper waters may reduce incidental catch of nearshore species such as copper rockfish, which has already reached the annual limit.

“A lot of anglers really look forward to the fall all-depth bottomfish season, especially for offshore lingcod,” said Maggie Sommer, ODFW marine fisheries manager. “Opening to fishing at all depths at the beginning of September this year should allow anglers to take advantage of this additional opportunity while weather and ocean conditions remain good.”

This change also means that all-depth halibut anglers may retain bottomfish on the same trip, since this is allowed when the sport bottomfish and halibut fisheries are both open at all depths.  

For more about bottomfish regulations, visit https://myodfw.com/sport-bottomfish-seasons

Get a Free NewsLetter Here

Washington’s Ocean Salmon Season Opens June 22; ‘Great Ops’ For Coho


Sport anglers will have the opportunity to reel in salmon off the Washington coast starting Saturday, June 22.

That’s when all four marine areas open daily to fishing for Chinook and coho salmon, said Wendy Beeghley, a fishery manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).


“Anglers can expect some great opportunities to fish for coho this summer,” Beeghley said. “With increased numbers of coho projected to return, we have a much higher catch quota for coho this year in comparison with the last few years.”

The coho quota for 2019 is 159,600 fish, up 117,600 over last year. Meanwhile, the Chinook catch quota is 26,250 fish, which is 1,250 fewer fish than 2018’s quota.

In marine areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 2 (Westport), anglers can retain two salmon, only one of which can be a chinook. Anglers fishing in marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) will have a two-salmon daily limit. In all marine areas, anglers must release wild coho.

Anglers should be aware the daily limit for the section of Marine Area 4 east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line is listed incorrectly for June 22-July 31 in 2019-2020 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet. The daily limit for the area during that timeframe is two salmon.

Although all four marine areas are scheduled to close Sept. 30, Beeghley reminds anglers that areas could close earlier if the quota is met. A section of Marine Area 3 also will re-open Oct. 1 through Oct. 13, or until a quota of 100 Chinook or 100 coho is met.

Throughout the summer, anglers can check WDFW’s webpage at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/creel/ocean for updates.

More information about the fisheries can be found in the 2019-20 Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet, available at license vendors and sporting goods stores and online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/.

2019 Washington Halibut Seasons Subject Of Upcoming Public Meeting


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will host a public meeting in Montesano in early October to discuss management options and select proposed dates for the 2019 statewide halibut season.


The meeting will be held Oct. 9 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St.

State halibut managers will provide an overview of specific options under consideration by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) for recreational fisheries in Marine Areas 1 (Columbia River) and 2 (Westport) for 2019. WDFW will consider public comments received on those options in developing recommendations to the PFMC before the federally established council meets in November.

“The options reflect suggestions made by anglers to improve the state’s halibut fishery,” said Heather Reed, coastal policy coordinator for WDFW. “The halibut fishery is very popular and this meeting is a good opportunity to provide input.”

In addition to status quo, options under consideration include:

Revising the season opening date in Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) so that it aligns more closely with the openings in other marine areas.

Changing the number of days of the week the Marine Area 1 (Columbia River) all-depth fishery is open from three days per week to two.

Clarifying that the nearshore fishery in Marine Area 2 (Westport) will open if sufficient quota remains after the all-depth fishery closes.

At the Oct. 9 meeting, WDFW will also solicit input from the public and facilitate a discussion on the proposed season dates for the statewide season in Marine Areas 2-10. As part of those discussions, WDFW staff will review the tide calendars for next May and June and work to balance the needs across various fishing communities and charter and private fishing interests.

During the discussion, factors considered will include maximizing opportunity, extending the season length, and accommodating traditions relative to opening dates and planned fishing derbies.

More information about the specific options described above can be found online at https://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/J1b_Supp_WDFW_Rpt1_SEPTBB2018.pdf

For more information on the season-setting process visit PFMC’s website at http://www.pcouncil.org/pacific-halibut/background-information/.

Crabbing Closed From Coquille North Jetty To CA Border Due To Domoic Acid Levels


The Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announce the immediate closure of recreational and commercial crabbing from the north jetty of the Coquille River, which includes the bay in Bandon, to the California border due to elevated levels of domoic acid.

This includes crab harvested in bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers, and jetties. The recreational crabbing season in the ocean closed coast-wide on Oct.15.

The announcement extends last week’s recreational closure. Crab harvesting from the north jetty of the Coquille River to the Columbia River remains open in bays and estuaries, and on beaches, docks, piers, and jetties.

Despite the closure, crab and shellfish products sold in retail markets and restaurants remain safe for consumers.

For more information, call ODA’s shellfish safety information hotline at (800) 448-2474 or visit the ODA shellfish closures web page at: http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx

May 4 Start For Washington’s Halibut Season; Quota Up By 23,652 Pounds


Anglers fishing for halibut will notice a change this year with consistent halibut seasons across all Puget Sound and ocean areas, except marine waters near the mouth the Columbia River.

The scheduled season dates are May 4, 6, 11, 21 and 25, and June 1 and 4, provided there is sufficient quota to accommodate all these fishing days. These dates apply to halibut fishing in Puget Sound marine areas 5-10 and in ocean marine areas 2-4.


Halibut fishing in Marine Area 1 also gets under way May 4, but will be open four days per week (Thursday through Sunday) until the quota has been met.

State halibut seasons are established by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), using catch quotas adopted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission for coastal fisheries from California to Alaska.

Heather Reed, WDFW coastal policy coordinator, noted that this year’s quota for recreational halibut fisheries in Washington state is 243,667 pounds – an increase of about 23,652 pounds from 2016.

“We expect that the effort to align halibut season dates, together with a higher quota for the state’s recreational fisheries, will result in a longer season than what anglers have experienced in past years,” Reed said.

Halibut fishing has become an increasingly popular sport in Washington, making it difficult to predict how quickly anglers will reach the harvest limit for any given area, Reed said. The new season structure will help to ensure the state does not exceed federal quotas, with periodic catch assessments in each fishing area, she said.

Anglers should check the WDFW website for the latest information on openings before heading out, she said.

In all marine areas open to halibut fishing, there is a one-fish daily catch limit and two-fish possession limit in the field, and no minimum size restriction. Anglers must record their catch on a WDFW catch record card.

As in past years, Puget Sound marine areas 11, 12 and 13 will remain closed to halibut fishing.

In Marine areas 5 and 6, lingcod and Pacific cod can be retained in waters deeper than 120 feet on days when the recreational halibut fishery is open.

Additional changes in halibut-fishing rules that take effect for specific waters this year include:

  • Marine Area 1: Anglers will be allowed to keep a lingcod when halibut are on board during the all-depth fishery, but only when fishing north of the Washington-Oregon border during the month of May. The nearshore area in Marine Area 1 will open three days per week (Monday through Wednesday) beginning May 8 until the nearshore quota is taken. Bottomfish can be retained when halibut are onboard in the nearshore area.
  • Marine Area 2 (Westport): Beginning the Saturday after the all-depth fishery closes, the nearshore fishery will open seven days per week until the quota is taken.

Marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line: Bottomfish fishing will be restricted to the area shoreward of 20 fathoms (120 feet) beginning May 1 through Labor Day. Lingcod, sablefish, and Pacific cod can be retained seaward of 20 fathoms (120 feet) on days open to recreational halibut fishing.

Anglers should check the WDFW website for complete information on recreational halibut regulations and seasons athttp://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/halibut/.