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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 1, 2011 at 5:02 PM

Sport anglers could see a decent summer salmon fishery boosted by a strong Puget Sound pink and coho return

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State Fish and Wildlife presented their salmon forecasts, and there should be a good mix of salmon fishing opportunities throughout the 2011-12 season.

Many anglers were wondering about pink salmon forecasts, which call for more than 5.9-million pinks to flood into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

While the odd-numbered Puget Sound returning pinks hit almost 10-million in 2009, this year’s figure is still an excellent number of fish to be had.

“It is not like 2009, but there will still be lots of pink opportunities,” said Steve Thiesfeld, a state Fish and Wildlife sport fishery manager.

Almost 17.5-million pinks are expected back to the Fraser River in southern British Columbia, and a good number of those will migrate through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands boosting fishing for state side anglers.

Some of the strongest pink returns appear to be the Snohomish river system where more than 1.3-million are forecasted; Green river system almost 2.2-million; and Puyallup river system at 911,454.

The difficulty in accessing the huge Green pink run will be coping with a sub-par chinook return to that system where about 15,320 hatchery and 3,290 wild fish are forecasted.

Another good shot in the arm are Puget Sound coho returns where 981,216 coho are forecast to return compared to 613,930 last year.

“This is shaping up to be a really good year in Puget Sound for both coho and pink(s),” Thiesfeld said.

The coho forecast in Lake Washington is 28,606 (18,780 last year); Green, 41,805 (66,959); Elliott Bay net pens, 20,863 (28,826); central and south-central Puget Sound, 17,725 (3,100); Stillaguamish, 67,200 (31,332); Skagit, 154,293 (105,241); Nooksack/Samish, 75,251 (45,599); Strait of Juan de Fuca, 27,561 (16,231); Snohomish, 234,978 (123,898); South Sound, 272,295 (207,082); Hood Canal, 149,638 (84,368); and Puyallup, 54,588 (11,097).

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“There was a higher than predicted marine survival rate, plus a high coho smolt outmigration,” said Val Tribble, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “There was also good upwelling in the ocean but it did get off to a late start.”

As for Puget Sound summer and fall chinook returns are expected to total 243,029, which is a bit higher than last year’s forecast of 226,000.

Expect similar fishing seasons to last year, although fishing opportunities in the Green (Duwamish) River and Elliott Bay could be limited by a low forecast of wild chinook.

In the extreme there was word that there is a proposal to not have a sport chinook fishery on Elliott Bay and the Green River this summer. There is a proposal to not open the bay until Sept. 1 to protect depressed wild chinook.

“The bay will be a lot more problematic to getting it open for pinks,” Thiesfeld said at the meetings.

A Lake Washington summer sockeye fishery is highly unlikely with a forecast is about 34,683, and falls well below the minimum spawning escapement of 350,000. That threshold needs to be met before considering opening the lake to a sport fishery.

Compare that to the Fraser River where the forecast calls for almost 2.9-million sockeye this summer.

One bright spot again this season could be Baker Lake where 23,954 fish are expected back, and Thiesfeld says: “There is opportunity for fishing this summer.”

The Puget Sound fall chum forecast of 971,186 will result in trouble spots in places like the Skagit, Stillaguamish and Snohomish where they are expected to fall under spawning escapement goals. The one exception is the Nooksack-Samish chum return, which is above goal.

Constraining salmon stocks this coming year for coho are Thompson River stocks in southern British Columbia. For chinook they are mid-Hood Canal and Green, and spring chinook such as Nooksack, White and Skagit.

Constraining chum returns are Nooksack, Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Hood Canal summer stocks. For sockeye the issue will be the Lake Washington stock.

Some thoughts brought up at the meeting today (March 1) in Olympia were to open all of Marine Catch Areas 8-1 and 8-2 for coho in October. Open the Snoqualmie River for pinks, which it hasn’t seen a fishery in quite some time. Lastly would be to clean up the Samish River fishery, which has turned into a battle zone due to access and snagging.

Thiesfeld did point out stringent regulations last year did “clean up” the Skokomish salmon fishery in Hood Canal quite a bit according to state Fish and Wildlife enforcement.

Fishing prospects look decent this summer for chinook off the coast and in the Columbia River.

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About 760,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River, and will be the fifth largest run since 1948.

More than half of the chinook forecast – about 398,000 salmon – is expected to be “upriver brights” headed to the Hanford Reach area and the Snake River. That would be the second largest run of upriver brights since 1964, when fishery managers began keeping records.

“This should be a good year for upriver brights, which provide some of the best in-river fishing opportunities for anglers,” said Cindy LeFleur, a state Fish and Wildlife Columbia River policy coordinator.

A forecast of 362,500 Columbia River coho is similar to last year’s projection.

Salmon fishing should be similar this summer to that in 2010, although there could be some larger kings in the mix.

“Last year, fishing was good for chinook and fair for coho,” said Milward. “The number of salmon available for this summer’s ocean fishery is expected to be similar to last year, so anglers should see another good year of fishing.”

Nearly 250,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return this year to the lower Columbia River. Those salmon, known as “tules,” traditionally have been the backbone of the recreational ocean chinook fishery. The 362,500 coho salmon bound for the Columbia River also account for a significant portion of the ocean catch.

Late fall fisheries that are highly popular in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor could see a fairly good season in the late summer and early fall.

The Grays Harbor fall chinook return calls for 23,275 wild (escapement goal is 14,600) and 3,914 hatchery (416) fish, leaving some possibly available for sport harvest.

If that chinook fishery happens in Grays Harbor it would be the first time they have been accessed by a sport anglers since 2007. Kings in the bay are big and brawny, and pack a lot of energy when hooked on a rod and reel.

The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 85,321 wild (35,400) and 41,421 hatchery (4,970) fish. Sport anglers can expect some of those to be available for harvest.

The Willapa Bay chinook forecast is 36,817 leaving about 22,542 for harvest, and the coho forecast is 112,446 leaving about 93,256 available to catch.

Phil Anderson, the state Fish and Wildlife director pointed out that reduced budgets could play into how fisheries are designed especially those such as hatchery-marked selective salmon fisheries where more monitoring is required.

“We do not have much sampling dollars to expand marked fisheries (this season), and hanging on to what we got (last year) will be important,” Thiesfeld said. “There will be more scrutiny on mark selective fisheries by co-managers (the tribes).”

“We’ll be happy with what we’ve got and probably won’t see an increase of selective fishing this year,” said Gary Krein, owner of All-Star Charters in Everett and a state Fish and Wildlife sport fishing advisory board member.

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The state general-fund support for state Fish and Wildlife was reduced by 30 percent in the current budget, and is expected to drop even further over the next two years. That could mean tougher times ahead unless solved with proposed fee increases on fishing-hunting licenses just to name one that are the table in the Legislature right now awaiting approval.

State, tribal and federal fishery managers will meet March 5-10 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.

Other meeting dates: March 9, 6-8 p.m., Willapa Bay fisheries, Raymond Elks Lodge, 326 3rd St. in Raymond; March 14, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Columbia River regional fisheries, Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way in Vancouver, Wash.; March 15, North of Falcon meeting, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., General Administration Building, 210 11th Ave. S.W. in Olympia; March 17, 6-8 p.m., Grays Harbor fisheries, Montesano City Hall, 112 North Main St. in Montesano; March 18, Puget Sound fisheries, 6-8 p.m., Skagit County PUD, 1415 Freeway Drive in Mount Vernon; March 23, 6-9 p.m., Columbia Basin forecasts and fishery outlook, Benton PUD, 2721 West 10th Ave. in Kennewick; March 24, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Grays Harbor/Willapa Bay fisheries, DNR Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E. in Olympia; and April 5, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., North of Falcon meeting, Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. West in Lynnwood.

All fishing seasons will be finalized at the PFMC meeting April 9-14 in San Mateo, Calif.

For more information on the salmon season setting process go to the state Fish and Wildlife Web site.

(Photos taken by Mark Yuasa, Mark Harrison and Eric Tomita)

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