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:
How do you feel about good news?
Good news, especially when it comes to summer and early fall salmon fishing here in Washington, is my kind of music. In fact, now that the chinook and coho return forecasts have been made public, the good news is off the chart.
And since April is finally here, through this writing, let me spend some time of when and where to be during the upcoming salmon season.
Before I do that, I want to take a shot at the why question. We Pacific Northwesterners complain about the rain. We live in a climate where normal annual rainfall runs between three to five feet of rain annually, depending upon where you live.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you have read or heard about the La Nina weather patterns we have encountered for what seems like several years.
Remember, people who live here, who really like La Nina winters are either skiers or friends of salmon. Wet, cool winters are derivative of ocean surface temperature patterns.
At or below temperatures trigger La Nina weather conditions and at or above normal temperatures produce El Nino conditions. If you worship the sun, and do not give a rip about salmon survival factors, El Nino is for you. However, that has not been the case for considerable years now, as wet and cool La Nina’s have prevailed.
La Nina conditions are good for all fish. Whether it’s juvenile salmon in their fresh water
nursery, or maturing salmon, living in the ocean pasture, growing healthy as the result of a productive food chain, then, eventually returning to the stream or river of their origin. This year will be another dividend payout year as survival rates are up. And, when survival rates are up, here they come, baby!
The first major return of salmon this year, is underway now, on the Columbia River, where spring chinook salmon are pouring into the Columbia. Salmon forecasters from Washington and Oregon are predicting the fourth largest return of spring chinook since records were initiated nearly 80 years ago.
Anglers are migrating now, to the lower Columbia and it’s tributaries in huge numbers, hoping to land the premier eating-quality salmon of all salmon. Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
Later this summer, around two-thirds of a million chinook (king) salmon will be entering the mouth of the Columbia River in mid-August, traditionally peaking during the end of the third or beginning of the fourth week.
Decent numbers of coho salmon will be riding shotgun, accompanying this big chinook salmon return, to the tune of about a third of a million fish. Yep, my reservations have already been made.
To the north, up the coast 20-30 miles, the ocean summer salmon season schedule is about a week away from the announcement by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. King salmon will rule the ocean again this year.
I like Westport in early and mid-July, agreeing with historical catch data and there is a strong liklihood that anglers will get a shot to chase chinook salmon beginning in mid-June too.
Regardless, the town should rock as late June and July are great months, statistically, to catch chinook salmon in the Westport region.
Following July, I turn my focus to the lower Columbia River, as reported earlier, followed by shallow water king salmon fishing in Willapa Bay. Many anglers have turned to other salmon fishing options in late August and early September in recent years. This will be the year to return to Willapa.
King salmon forecasts have hovered below or around 30,00 chinook salmon in recent years, which is considered a nice return. Try 45,000 kings, forecasted to the Willapa in 2012.
From a contemporary standpoint, this is a big return and the fishing should be meltdown. Throw in a coho forecast of 170,000 compared to 110,000 last year and it spells fish on! I like the last week of August and the first week of September. Pick soft tides and they bite like crazy on the high water. Yep, my reservations are in for Willapa too!
From the Willapa, it’s on to Grays Harbor. I am anticipating a king salmon fishery in the Harbor for the first time in the last four or five years. The numbers are not huge, but exceed the escapement goal by around 5,000 fish which should trigger a fishery.
Throw in around 200,000 coho salmon with a king fishery and it could be big time fun. The last week of September and early October seem to be the peak. Pay attention to next week’s announcement and if it’s a go… book it Dano!
There are several areas in Puget Sound, the San Juans and the Strait of Juan de Fuca west to Neah Bay that missed my focus of places to be this summer. The Puget Sound king salmon forecast, which provides for the July-August north Sound hatchery-only selective fishery is not shabby, at around a quarter of a million chinook salmon.
This July/August fishery (unclear at this writing whether it will open on the 1st or 16th) mid/north Puget Sound selective fishery is the ultimate stacation option for Seattle, Edmonds, Everett and west Puget Sound anglers. Put in your time at Jeff Head, Pt. No Pt., Possession Bar and Port Townsend and you’ll encounter some good scores. So many places to fish, in a year like this, and so little time.
I would be remiss, in my forecast outlook for this summer to not mention the San Juans and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Fishing pressure has been relatively light in both of these areas during recent summers excluding local anglers who fully understand these regions and take it to the bank.
One of the sleepers will be Neah Bay.
Yes, it’s probably the hardest to get to, out on the
northwest tip of Washington, but with the strong forecast for the Columbia and the coast, Neah Bay could be incredible in mid-July.
There is a clear relationship between Neah Bay and the Columbia River. When the Columbia has strong runs, Neah Bay can be spectacular. Dude! This will be a fantastic year!
I have heard rumblings, along with you, about $5 a gallon gas fees by this summer. I translate these gas price years into more stacation. During the last 20 years, salmon anglers in increasing numbers have fed the passion of this sport by migrating to Canada and Alaska, especially as Washington’s fishing regulations have been restrictive and returns of chinook and coho have been ho-hum.
That will not be the case, comparatively speaking this year. Show me the salmon, and I’ll show you anglers staying home, spending their dollars efficiently and productively. Stacation never looked so good.
See you on the water!
Tony Floor is the Director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and a former 30-year veteran of state Fish and Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.
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(Photo courtesy of Gerald Chew of Mercer Island and Tony Floor of Olympia)