What’s Up With Puget Sound Coho This Year?

Yesterday’s news that the Snohomish system would close to coho fishing today did not go over so well with local anglers, some of whom are enjoying a pretty good season but also seeing their river options quickly shrink.

I just loaded the boat. I was playing hooky from work tomorrow. What a bummer!!!!!!!!” said Shane Young on our Facebook post announcing the sudden stop to season.

Heck, if you’re catching fish, there must be lots of them around, right?

That’s been my theory.

Somehow this season I’ve magically become some sort of silver salmon all-star (Pop Warner Division), hooking numerous coho on the Duwamish/Green River and Area 10.

THERE DOESN'T APPEAR TO BE A LOT OF MEAT ON THE BONES OF THIS YEAR'S PUGET SOUND COHO RUN, NOR MUCH OF A RUN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THERE DOESN’T APPEAR TO BE A LOT OF MEAT ON THE BONES OF THIS YEAR’S PUGET SOUND COHO, NOR MUCH OF A RUN. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

Two weeks ago I bonked two in 10 minutes off Richmond Beach. It was ridiculous. I should have turned the second back and kept on fishing. Like a Seahawks game in the fourth quarter these days, who knows what the score would have ended up at.

But according to WDFW, coho returns are way, way down throughout Pugetropolis.

The agency has now closed salmon fishing on the Green/Duwamish, Area 10, Stillaguamish and Skagit to try and nurse as many of the stragglers back to spawning grounds and hatchery facilities as possible.

Escapement is poor so far too on Lake Washington and the Puyallup, compared to 2014.

“In-river counts are terrible,” notes North Sound district fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull. “The last Skagit in season estimate was only 11,000 and change. Marblemount will make hatchery numbers but isn’t there yet — it should be. Almost nothing back to Baker. I can’t find a roller in the Stilly … Looking at something on the order of 40,000 in the Snohomish based on the Sunset Falls counts. Wallace hatchery is in big trouble.”

Preseason forecasts for those systems were: Skagit: 141,000; Stillaguamish: 31,000; Snohomish: 157,000.

Still, anglers are in an uproar because they now see nets on the rivers. If sports are closed because there aren’t enough fish, shouldn’t the tribes get off the water too?

In the end, this may be the rare year where we actually catch more than 50 percent of the harvestable coho, a race usually won by tribes, which can run up the percentage by scooping big numbers out of certain terminal zones.

Politics of all that aside, I ran another question past Barkdull: Did he think the coho are biting better or a higher percentage are this year, and might that be leading to an impression of plenty of them out there?

Who the hell knows what’s going on in the mind of any salmon, but he did have one idea:

“Yes, they are biting way better than usual. My theory is they are still trying desperately to put on weight since they got starved most their life. Bigger size = more eggs in females. Bigger size= more able to compete for females if you are a male. Either way, it’s a strategy to maximize your genetic potential,” he said.

Perhaps that was also what was going on with this year’s humpy run.

“Pinks were doing the same thing,” Barkdull said. “The catch rates out of Everett were the best ever, yet there weren’t that many fish actually. We know that’s a fact because spawning is about over now, there were not many on the spawning grounds, and commercial catches sucked. Total runsizes were way down from last cycle. They were tiny as well, and thus bitey as heck, trying to get bigger, trying to grow.”

I thought back to one of those two coho I landed that morning earlier this month. It was aggressive as all get-out.

When I brought it up on shore, the hen spit out a herring.

When I gutted it, I found another in its throat.

When I opened its bulging stomach, there were five more in various stages of digestion.

THIS LITTLE PIGGY CAME HOME -- THE BAITFISH-IMITATING BUZZ BOMB WOULD HAVE BEEN HERRING NO. 8 IN THIS RICHMOND BEACH COHO'S DIGESTIVE TRACT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

THIS LITTLE PIGGY CAME HOME — THE BAITFISH-IMITATING BUZZ BOMB WOULD HAVE BEEN HERRING NO. 8 IN THIS RICHMOND BEACH COHO’S DIGESTIVE TRACT. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It was not a large coho, more like about the average size caught at this year’s Everett derby, around 4 1/2 pounds.

An average number of silvers were weighed at the mid-September event, certainly nothing as alarming as 2010, when only 241 were.

But that year’s winner was also 15.68 pounds; this year’s was 11.31.

My little piggy must’ve come out of The Blob hungry as hell.

“It’s apparently having a greater effect on coho than we expected, and we expected survival rates to be on the poor side this year,” Barkdull said about the unusually warm, but unproductive waters pushed up against the northeastern Pacific for the last year and a half.

Several years ago we ran a story that talked to how water conditions dictated how a particular spring Chinook river fished. Even with big numbers returning, if flows weren’t right, the fishery could suck. Conversely, a low return and the right flows could make for a great fishery.

It may be that ocean conditions have led to a pretty good salmon season on stocks that aren’t all that plentiful.

Or maybe they’re all still out feeding?

This morning, Nelson Goodsell reports on Salmon University, “We haven’t hit the peak yet ! I cannot believe it is past the middle of OCTOBER and the coho cavalcade is still proceeding through Area 9. Each week the fish are putting on the pounds and they are still streaming by the Point Wilson lighthouse.”

Counts at Sekiu and Port Angeles are comparable to if not better than mid-October 2014 too.

One thought on “What’s Up With Puget Sound Coho This Year?”

  1. I know lower Hood Canal (near Hoodsport) has had almost NO coho this year. I caught a dink a few weeks ago at Eagle Creek (west shore) but they just are not here in any numbers. Even Skokomish Tribal gillnetting efforts are catching very few – like 3 coho in 3 days of gillnetting, on the Canal waters. That is very very bad.
    I have not seen any schools of jumpers off our place on the Canal (east shore) and I usually always have a coho opportunity, but its been ‘coho a no show’. I am surprised they didnt shut down Hood Canal to all Coho fishing (but I guess its mostly a hatchery fishery). A few Chum coming into lower Hpood Canal but again, numbers are not great.

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