Ahhhhhh, April, we made it!
Daffodils, tulips and time to go fishing! April is a very important time of the year here in the Pacific Northwest, when the sun begins to heat up the spring days and the moss begins to evaporate off our backs. It’s also an important time when the salmon seasons are set, based on strengths and weaknesses of returning chinook, coho and pink salmon. Buckle up for another big year.
Every year, dating back to the early 80’s, since the implementation of the coastal 200-mile limit, the state, feds, and tribes gather to compose the Northwest salmon forecast. These forecasts are ultimately sculpted into sport fishing seasons for all Washington waters, through next March, 2014. The announcement for these seasons should occur by the end of the first week of April, and you’ll find it on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.
At this writing, the forecast, based on the available pieces to the salmon survival puzzle, appear to be strong again. This trend has been ongoing for the last four or five years, thanks largely to the kind hand of Mother Nature, who has been providing a healthy food chain in the Pacific Ocean which salmon depend on for the greater part of their lives.
Here in Puget Sound, for example, our chinook salmon survival barometer reading throughout the winter is made through catches, or lack of catches of blackmouth, a term applied to immature chinook salmon pasturing in the Sound. Most of these fish choose to reside in north Puget Sound, the pristine waters of the San Juan Islands along with the Strait of Juan de Fuca throughout the winter.
The first read of this year’s crop began back in November, when areas such as Possession Bar, on the south end of Whidbey Island, Saratoga Passage and Admiralty Inlet opened for blackmouth fishing. The fishing and catching, when weather allowed, was red hot, a great sign of positive winter survival rates.
In December, the San Juan Island region opened for blackmouth fishing and the torrid catches continued well into January.
On the second weekend of February, the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic hosted their 10th annual salmon derby in the Islands. The tournament set a record of nearly 200 hatchery-produced blackmouth entered into the event, smashing the old record of 140 chinook. Another data point of outstanding winter survival rates.
The following weekend, the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby held its annual tournament and they too witnessed record catches of over 350 fin-clipped hatchery chinook entered in their long-standing derby. Are you starting to get the picture? Many fish management experts, who follow these ongoing catches agree that we are not only looking at a good winter of salmon abundance, but these fish will evolve into this summer’s king salmon population for Puget Sound. I am starting to twitch now!
Another important piece to the 2013 puzzle is the forecasted return of king and coho salmon back to the Columbia River. These stocks of salmon represent the backbone of our summer fishing picture as they migrate down the north American coast through British Columbia, providing fisheries to Neah Bay, La Push, Westport, Ilwaco and ultimately into the Columbia River.
The chinook salmon forecast looks very good. Last year, a half million king salmon returned to the Columbia. This year, the forecast is at 677,900. Smart anglers are making reservations now at their ports of choice.
The coho salmon forecast is up too, as 632,000 coho returned last year and the 2013 forecast is at 716,000. This means that the coast should be smoking this summer as these good returns of kings and coho should produce a lot of smiles from anglers investing their fishing time from Neah Bay to Astoria.
Back in Puget Sound, 2013, an odd-numbered year, means pink salmon are coming home, as they do every two years. The forecast looks good settling in at 6.3 million. This forecast is better than 2011 but not as strong as the big return in 2009 of 10 million pink salmon. The runs, by river, which compose the 6.3 million total are equally distributed between the Skagit, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Green, Puyallup and Nisqually Rivers.
Thank you Mother Nature and your continuing kindness to provide for Pacific Northwest salmon stocks. I’ve been in the sport salmon fishing business for nearly 40 years now with the bulk of that time working at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. When I reflect back into the mid-late 70’s, I recall pedal-to-the-metal salmon fishing seasons and catches. In fact, the all-time high for Washington sport caught chinook and coho fisheries occurred back in those late 70’s years. Today, even though the seasons are not as long as they were back then, the quality of fishing challenges that era.
On the eve of the annual sport salmon season announcement, my sources say the likelihood of an early opener for chinook salmon in June may happen again. This early summer fishing opportunity was incredible, particularly at Neah Bay and Westport. Zillions of Sooty Shearwaters covered the ocean waters in these areas, attempting to predate on the tons and tons of bait fish, just under the surface. And king salmon, terrorizing and inhaling the bait fish like a sumo hot dog eating contest caused me to hyperventilate as my fishing rod tip slammed down into the water again and again, fishing in shallow water in front of the Quinault Casino just north of Westport. Oh baby, make it happen again!
In summary, I’m predicting another great year for sport salmon fishing in Washington. The pencil marks on my June through September calendar is beginning to look like Kyle Busch used it to do his 360-degree victory burnouts. Westport, Neah Bay, Mid-Channel Bank, Possession Bar, Hein Bank, the Columbia River and Grays Harbor, I’m trembling again! It’s all just around the corner and I love this game! See you on the water.