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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

June 4, 2013 at 9:08 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box reveals a bunch of fish to catch this month

Ilwaco4  Aug. 20-2012Here is the Tackle Box by Tony Floor:

Ready or not, it’s June and kickoff month to the annual summer king salmon fishing season, starting with coastal waters. Oh boy!

Last year, Westport and Ilwaco lit the fuse to their season with an early opening, June 9th, for a fin-clipped hatchery-only chinook salmon fishery. Westport was on fire. Baitfish, birds and king salmon beyond this angler’s imagination. This year, Westport and Ilwaco open on June 8th, 7-days per week, 2 hatchery kings only per day through June 21st at Ilwaco, and June 22nd at Westport. The general “all species” season begins the 22nd at Ilwaco and the 23rd at Wesport.

In northern coastal waters at La Push and Neah Bay, the hatchery-only chinook fishery is scheduled for June 22nd through the 28th. Their “all species” season begins the following day on the 29th. Similar to Westport last summer, Neah Bay encountered meltdown status with bait and chinook salmon abundant from Waddah Island west to Tatoosh Island. I spoke with a number of anglers who fished Neah Bay during this chinook selective fishery and the word “unbelieveable” was the common theme.

Experienced salmon anglers know that last year was last year. I cannot fathom that fishing can be that hot again in mid-June, even though the coastal chinook forecast is decent. I believe that the scenario in 2012 was driven by massive schools of anchoive, predominately foraging throughout the inshore area, resulting in a feeding frenzy of 15-20 pound king salmon, bulking up for their migration into the Columbia River.

Veteran ocean anglers realize that Columbia River chinook salmon stocks are the common denominator for success or failure in the coastal fishery, from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco. This year, considering all stocks of Columbia River chinook salmon, the forecast is two-thirds of a million fish, not quite as high as the last two years but considering the 10-year return average, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.

To be successful fishing the ocean, say, out of Westport, it is critical to find the baitfish. Unlike chinook fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juans or the remainder of Puget Sound, it is relatively rare to fish geography in the ocean. Of the four directions of the compass, only one direction offers the sight of land. Chinook salmon can be found anywhere from 40-50 feet of water along the beach, north and south of Westport, or out 10-12 miles, in 250-300 feet of water, many anglers refer to this area as “the highway.” Communicating with other boats who may find the bait and chinook before you do is important. You can be two miles away from the bait, out of the fish, and not know it. Of course, Westport charterboats who communicate intensely with each other can lead you to the fish, but not all the time. Find the bait and you’ll find the fish.

For several years, now, I have written about the importance of fin-clipping hatchery produced chinook salmon which in turn, provides for king salmon fisheries in Washington waters. This practice allows anglers to release un-marked chinook salmon, hopefully contributing to the conservation of wild chinook in need of protection along with access to hatchery fish. Remember, a hatchery produced salmon’s assignment is to get caught! Selective fisheries have become very common in Washington since the introduction of hatchery-only coho salmon rules developed in the ocean sport fisheries dating back to the late 90’s followed by hatchery only chinook salmon in Puget Sound beginning in 2007. Without these selective fisheries, many of us would likely be smoking golf balls instead of salmon, as seasons would be far shorter or non-existent, necessary to protect weak stocks of wild chinook salmon, including highly protected ESA listed chinook salmon.

Finally, pay attention to the weather and tides. Our coastal waters can be very unfriendly. Traditionally, even though Puget Sound is calm and sunny in the summer, the ocean can be very rough with low marine clouds or fog and often nasty winds. By tradition, the wind blows out of the northwest in the summer. The hotter the weather in Puget Sound, the stronger the wind blows in the ocean. This is a good thing as these significant winds, contribute to upwelling off the continental shelf which in turn, sets the table for the entire food chain from baitfish to salmon and bottomfish throughout the coastal inshore habitat. Without these winds, which occurs during El Nino summers, the conveyer belt of chow becomes non-existent. Not a good thing for fish survival rates.

Huge tidal exchanges will also occur on the coast from June 22nd through June 27th. Boats, particularly under 30-feet should pay attention when attempting to cross the bar (Ilwaco, Westport and La Push) as maximum ebb usually occurs two hours before low slack and creates unsafe bar-crossing conditions. I have not met a king salmon yet, worthy of the equivalency of a boat upside down on the bar, in breaking waves, with anglers in 53 degree water screaming for help. Bad juju.

During these nasty big tides, my counsel is to stay away from maximum ebb. Go earlier, or later, but stay away from maximum ebbs. The mouth of the Columbia River at Ilwaco, nicknamed the graveyard of the Pacific, has earned that reputation, frequently during maximum ebb. The bottom line, be smart.

My summer fishing plans will kick off at Westport, close to home, during the chinook selective fishery on the 8th. Low water, a good time to cross the bar, is at 7:37 a.m. and many anglers prefer fishing the flood tide at Westport. I’m ready……are you? Love the smell of fresh king salmon in the morning!

I want to switch frequencies to the political side of fish business now to say a few things about ongoing actions within the Fish and Wildlife Commission. As you may have heard, Commissioners Larry Carpenter and Connie Manken were recently confirmed during a vote on the Senate floor last month. Manken, a former National Marine Fisheries Service scientist is a bright light on the Commission. With his vast knowledge of fish science, he has been a huge asset to the fish policy making decision process on the Commission. The Senate vote to confirm Manken to the Commission was a landslide “yes” vote.

Larry Carpenter, a long time sport fishing boat dealer from Mt. Vernon, who has played in the political fish arena representing the San Juan Islands region has hit the ground running in his brief tenure on the Commission. Surprisingly, State Senator Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island voted “no” during Carpenter’s confirmation vote. As a recent leader within the Senate democratic caucus, many followers of this action have been puzzled by Sen. Ranker’s attempt to reject Carpenter’s confirmation to the Commission. The sport fishing community looks forward to more dialogue with Sen. Ranker about the importance of sport fishing in his district. Regardless, in summary, Carpenter was confirmed by a majority vote.

Finally, in related Commission news, the Governor’s Office gave the boot to Commissioner Chuck Perry from central Washington and Gary Douvia, representing the NE corner of our state near Kettle Falls. Perry, a former Fish and Wildlife employee with strength in Wildlife issues from his region of Washington, served the Commission with distinction and noble service. Douvia, took all Fish and Wildlife issues head on, understanding that his service was an opportunity to lead and make a difference. He took a stance on wolf issues in NE Washington which resulted in political baggage that became extremely controversial between polarized groups favoring or opposing re-introduction of wolf populations in our state. Politically, Douvia became expendable when our new Governor took office last January. I will miss Gary Douvia for several reasons. First, he never feared making a decision regardless of political consequences at stake. Second, he understood the economic importance of sport fishing to our state. And third, he is a leader and represented his views with fact and direction. He will be missed.

Thank you Commissioners Perry and Douvia for your service on the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Service on the Commission is an act to volunteer to take on the fish and wildlife management challenges in our state and believe me, it’s a thankless job. Many anglers in this business, including this writer, appreciate your commitment to making the natural resource world a better place for fish and wildlife in Washington.

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.)

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

(Photo by Mark Yuasa. Pictured is Tony Floor (with a nice king caught in late summer off Ilwaco.)

 

 

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