Open real big, now take two or three chews and down the hatch. Hmmmmm, it tastes very sweet and moist, definitely seafood and what is it? If you guessed Dungeness crab, advance to GO and collect $200 bucks!
As most crab fishers know, the winter crab season opened in Puget Sound, about a month ago, excluding the Seattle and Tacoma regions (catch record areas 10 and 11). The state refers to this fall/winter season as the “winter season,” which opened October 1st in most areas and closes December 31st.
Looking back four months ago, the Puget Sound summer sport crab fishery opens every year on July 1st, Thursdays through Mondays only, through Labor Day weekend and about a quarter of a million Washingtonians participate in the game. During this past summer, the Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated 1.7 million pounds of Dungeness crab were caught by those quarter of a million people.
Of the 12 zones (WDFW crab management zones) of Puget Sound, from Sekiu to Olympia including Hood Canal, the highest catches occurred in the San Juan Islands (427,333 lbs.), followed by Saratoga Passage/Skagit Bay (326,173 lbs.). The Port Susan, lower Saratoga Passage and Everett area came in third (263,242 lbs.). The two month (July and August) summer catches in these three zones represent a million pounds of the 1.7 million million pound total. Holy schnockers crab man!
The 1.7 summer crab catch is the third highest in the last eight years.
During the next two months (November and December), the crab catches are a fraction of what’s caught in the summer. For example, in the last two years, in all areas, the fall/winter catches have hovered around 200,000 pounds. Does that mean that the crab are not there or have been caught? In some cases yes, and in many cases, no.
I do the greater part of my crabbing during the next two months. Here in south Puget Sound where I crab, crabbing can be decent to good with very little competition. People have gone on to do other traditional things during November and December. Not me. Crab fishing is open seven days a week during this time frame which is a luxury compared to the summer season when crabbers must manage for the Tuesday/Wednesday weekly closures.
I’m sure the weather affects a lot of crab fishers with small boats and I do not consider my 24 Osprey as a small or particularly large boat. However, with a flip of the switch of the heater, and the windshield wipers, it’s a snap of the fingers. My point is that a lot of people overlook this fishing opportunity during the next two months and I am simply suggesting that you might want to take another look to get outside. Works for me!
Winter Blackmouth Season
For most saltwater salmon anglers, November is the kickoff to the next six months of wonderful winter chinook fishing. As a life-long student of salmon fishing throughout the Pacific Northwest, I continue to learn and practice the when and where’s of how to be successful in chasing chinook and coho salmon. Without question, it is my passion. Looking back at my summer calendar, I spent 44 days on the saltchuck fishing and catching. It was a wonderful summer with lots of catching.
But the summer of ’13 is history, and November is when I start a new book beginning with a half year of blackmouth fishing. Statistically, confirmed by WDFW catch information, north Sound is the place to be. Saratoga Passage, Possession Bar, Pt. No Pt. and the great winter blackmouth producing spots from Kingston north to Port Townsend. Weather permitting, more and more anglers are re-discovering or discovering this region as the place to be to fish for and catch blackmouth. Remember, most of these blackmouth are next summer’s king salmon.
The San Juan Islands closed on November 1st, as it has for a number of years. Then, it reopens on December 1st through April for some incredible blackmouth fishing. It’s like presto, the fish arrive! I know, as I’ve participated in the spanking dating back into the late 70’s!
It wasn’t that long ago, that WDFW moved the San Juan winter blackmouth opener to December 1st. Prior to that action, the opener occurred on February 1st. Why? Dude! Selective fishing delivered through the presence of adipose fin-clipped chinook, hatchery produced, amigo.
Some anglers, I’ve recently learned, have a short memory of this historic action. As a player in the season setting process, I am a witness to how it happened. When you’re looking around the room for who to thank, start with Master Marine’s Larry Carpenter. As a recreational fishing advisor partner, he was relentless, lobbying WDFW for expanded fishing seasons since all of Washington’s hatchery produced chinook started to come on line, about 10 years.
As history witnessed, the Tribes were adamantly opposed to these new selective fishery proposals for chinook salmon, challenging WDFW in every step of the process. Hooking mortality, cost, enforcement and monitoring were the major arguments attempting to derail the introduction of selective fishing. Enter former Congressman Norm Dicks who was a one-man wrecking ball to provide us access to these hatchery produced fish.
He provided leadership, funding and a fierce presence in the negotiations between the state and tribes. Today, Norm is retired, Larry is still fighting the good fight and here we are, enjoying the benefits of the dedicated work by these two players. Sure, WDFW played a positive role, but I’m not sure it would have happened without Norm and Larry.
If you’re an angler who does not believe in selective fishing and the opportunity to have expanded seasons, then there is always the option of going backwards, changing the season opener back to February 1st and reduce the daily limit from two to one hatchery produced chinook per day. Makes about as much sense as putting covered wagons on I-5. Ain’t gonna happen!
So let’s get on with November and it’s time to go fishing. Blackmouth, Dungeness crab, freshwater chinook and coho, razor clams along coastal beaches, come on, baby! 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.)