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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

June 5, 2011 at 8:19 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box cracks crabs and rolls out the red carpet for kings

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Tony Floor, longtime salmon angler and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association offers his monthly fishing report. Here is Floor’s Tackle Box:

COPPER RIVER SALMON FRENZY ARRIVES

I turned on the tube a couple of weeks ago, looking for the morning news, only to watch the annual story of the first Copper River chinook salmon being unloaded from an Alaska airline cargo plane. While the talking head being interviewed by a reporter did not answer the question about the current price per pound, I could not help but think about what this story really means, as I wasn’t worried about any lines building at my local grocery store of consumers eager to pay $30 to $35 a pound for this storied fish.

Marketers would have you believe, each bite of Copper River chinook is a life changing experience and similar to drinking directly from Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. And just a few days ago, I heard an ad on the radio heralding Copper River sockeye (oh, this will change your life too) for $14 bucks a pound. You better hurry and go get yours as we may be on the edge of doom.

First, and foremost, a Copper River chinook salmon is not different than a Columbia River spring chinook salmon. These fish bear the season adjective to their name, suggesting they, by form of genetics, leave the saltwater and enter the freshwater of their destination at this time of year. Spring chinook, by design, make this annual pilgrimage as they historically have the greatest distance to travel.

For Columbia River spring chinook, this means for thousands of years, they enter the river now, bound for upriver destinations such as the Okanogan and the Snake River along with its upriver tributaries. Once arriving to these upriver destinations, living off the rich oils in the fat within their flesh, they spawn in the early fall, earlier than the abundant fall chinook. Make sense? This oil, recognized as the Holy Grail containing Omega-3 fish oil, guzzled out of a 55 gallon drum may cause you not to blink for the remainder of your life and live to a ripe old age of around 200 years. Not really, but you get the point.

Spring chinook from the Columbia River are the same oil-rich fish as the Copper River chinook but you’ll pay about half the price at a restaurant or your local fish market.

A few months ago, at a Christmas party here in the Olympia area, I bumped into a cardiologist who is recognized as “the guy” when it comes to heart issues and healthy diets. He wrote a popular book, several years ago called “No White at Night.” I asked this doc for his opinion of fish oil supplements . He responded to tell me that fish oil capsules offer minimal benefits of Omega-3 oils and went on to say, that he had a better recommendation. He said that one bite of smoked salmon, or two bites of pickled herring daily is all the body requires for the full benefits of Omega-3 oils.

I’m a convert and I just finished off the last of my 55-gallon drum of fish oil, on the rocks, during happy hour last night. Since I smoke about 400-500 pounds of chinook and coho salmon every year, and I love pickled herring, this recommendation works for me. My voice has dropped an octive and I’m growing hair between my toes, but I’m still a happy guy.

HERE COME THE KINGS!

June is show time. Here comes the kings. Thousands and thousands of kings. All four coastal ports (Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay) open on June 18 through the 25th for fin-clipped hatchery king salmon only, two per day. Then, on June 26th, the general opener kicks in with a two salmon limit, one chinook per day (hatchery or wild) and wild coho must be released.

I have watched these ocean fisheries for a long time, attempting to define prime time for king salmon. I have learned, that it varies somewhat from year to year. However, with that said, this summer is forecasted to be “the big one” for king salmon in our ocean fisheries, as the bulk of this large return is bound for the Columbia River. Let’s turn back the page of time to the summer of 2010 and review what happened. Here’s the data by week, documenting the number of anglers who fished at Westport and their catches of chinook:

July 5-11: 2,161 anglers, 1,167 chinook

July 12-18: 2,034 anglers, 1,332 chinook

July 19-25: 3,515 anglers, 3,502 chinook

July 26-Aug.1: 3,875 anglers, 3841 chinook

Aug. 2-8: 4,797 anglers, 4,997 chinook

Aug. 9-15: 3,946 anglers, 3,253 chinook

Aug. 16-22: 2,918 anglers, 1,670 chinook

Aug, 23-29: 2,102 anglers, 666 chinook

Any time salmon anglers, statistically, can catch one chinook, for every two anglers, that is lights out king salmon fishing. Take a look again, at the third and fourth weeks of July. About as hot as a weenie roast inside a nuclear reactor.

Looking back longer term, I have witnessed superb king salmon fishing during the first two weeks of July and that timeframe should never be under-estimated for chasing chinook salmon. In other words, when in doubt, go, go, and go fishing again as this year’s 760,000 king salmon forecast, bound for the Columbia River, qualifies as one of the best ever.

RECENT CRAB RULING

Finally, a quick thought about the recent crab litigation that occurred in Thurston County Superior Court two weeks ago. If you follow the Puget Sound Dungeness crab issue, the Fish and Wildlife Commission, in a very contentious decision making process, voted and approved a new allocation for sport crabbing increasing the ratio from about 33% sport, to 66% commercial, to the new split of 45% sport, and 55% commercial.

If you are a reader of this column, you may recall that the Puget Sound commercial crab industry filed suit in Thurston County Court recently, seeking a temporary restraining order asking the judge to return to the former allocation ratio. The judge struck down the request in a very bold and direct response. This simply means that the crab season, set to kick off July 1st in many areas (excluding the San Juan Islands) of the Sound will move ahead as planned. Kudos to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for getting it right.

And kudos to Judge Thomas McPhee for doing his homework and recognizing the Commission’s comprehensive work and action. He got it right too. And the beat goes on.

I’m ready to go fishing in mid-June when the ocean opens on June 18. And, in the weeks ahead, it will only get better and better. See you on the water and let the good times roll.

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

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