Many salmon anglers planning on heading to the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby this Saturday through Monday (Feb. 15-17) are gathering fishing intel on where the best and biggest hatchery chinook will likely occur.
In any fishing derby that is the million dollar question, but here is some of the latest information I was able to take from those who’ve got their ear nailed to the waters of the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“How good anglers do in the derby will depend on the weather,” said Larry Bennett, the head state Fish and Wildlife creel checker in the Strait who reported at check from the Ediz Hook ramp at Port Angeles saw seven boats with 12 anglers and nine chinook. “There are some fish around off Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend.”
“During the weekday it was windy along with crummy water conditions, and nobody got out until the weekend,” Bennett said. “There was a burst of action by Saturday, and the fish were in the 6 to 8 pound range with an occasional one around 10 pounds, but the fish we saw around Port Angeles weren’t that big.”
“At John Wayne (a marina in Sequim) and Port Townsend the fish are bigger up to 12 pounds,” Bennett said. “Winter Hole and the humps (located just west of Port Angeles Harbor) are where most of the fish were coming in from, and I saw one boat (on Sunday) with four fish. They were also still getting a few fish in the harbor, but those seemed to have moved out of there in recent days.”
Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association and the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, reported that former state Fish and Wildlife employee and noted salmon angler Mike Schmidt reported action has been poor in the far western stretches of the Strait.
“The latest reports I got (from Feb. 14) show that it has been very poor especially at Freshwater Bay and the humps (west of Port Angeles),” Floor said. “The wild card is Freshwater Bay, and maybe it will start producing but it has definitely been quiet.”
“Going into the derby places protected by a southerly wind like Protection is a good thing, and because of the winds it is really hard to get a read on where the best fishing will likely be. I know many would like to get out to the (exposed) banks in the Strait like Eastern, Coyote and Hein, but the weather will nail that door shut for as far as we can see into the future.”
“The tides are also flat on both sides of the ebb and flood until the beginning of next week,” Floor said. “The next nice morning ebb tide starts on Monday (Feb. 17).”
Now with that said about the dicey weather, Floor mentions there is no question that there are fish around to be caught, but it is going to limit the access to catch them.
“I expect the downrigger trollers working the area off Cape George, along Diamond Point known as Cat Creek (which is marked by ravine coming down from Diamond Point) and Protection Island should be able to find some decent(-sized) fish,” Floor said. “These areas might not produce a lot of fish, but usually a bigger one. More fish are collected particularly on an ebb tide at Protection Island.”
The Olympic Peninsula Salmon covers 500 square miles of fishing area with five weigh stations and a $10,000 first place prize for the largest salmon.
The derby is hosted by the Gardiner Salmon Derby Association, a nonprofit corporation that supports area emergency and other services, and is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series.
Tickets can be purchased online until Wednesday, Feb. 12. Go to www.GardinerSalmonDerby.org. Tickets will also be available at the five launch ramps, but ONLY on Saturday, Feb. 15. Ticket sales are limited.
The weigh stations include Freshwater Bay, Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, John Wayne Marina in Sequim, Gardiner, and Port Townsend Boat Haven.
The awards ceremony will be held 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17 at the Gardiner boat ramp, and the free BBQ begins at 11 a.m.
The derby last year produced a record catch of 351 hatchery-marked chinook, which was the highest in the history of this nearly 40 year event. That beat out the record in 2011 of 248 fish. The derby had a turnout of 820 anglers, the largest in 10 years and easily topped the 650 anglers who attended last year.
First place went to Jerry Thomas of Mount Vernon with a 15.90 pound chinook, and earned him $10,000. Second was Lauren Selvig of Port Orchard with a 14.80 pound fish and received $2,000. The $1,000 third place fish of 14.35 pounds went to Don White of Hansville.
The average size of chinook was 7.52 pounds, in the derby that is part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series.
Other top finishers were: 4,Fred Philipsen of Belfair, 14.30; 5, Ralph Thomas of Tacoma, 13.85; 6, Jeff Jenkins of Gig Harbor, 13.60; 7, Mark Reynolds of Port Angeles, 13.40; 8, Mark Griffiths of Seattle, 13.10; 9, Don Arnett of Port Townsend, 13.05; 10, Guy Lipsky of Port Angeles, 12.80; 11, Larry Lack of Port Angeles, 12.80; 12, Ron Lampers of Snohomish, 12.50; 13, Frank Auman of Tacoma, 12.20; 14, Thomas Amos of Port Angeles, 12.10; 15, Ray Lampers of Granite Falls, 11.95.
The Northwest Series, which began with seven events in 2004, now draws between 7,000 and 8,000 annually. The grand prize is a raffle drawing at the Everett Coho Derby in Sept. 20-21 for a $65,000 fully-loaded 21-foot River Hawk boat. There will also be a sleek fishing boat given away in a kids raffle.
Remaining derby series schedule: Everett Blackmouth Derby, March 22; Bellingham Salmon Derby, July 11-13; Harbor Marine Salmon Tournament in Everett, July 26-27; South King County Puget Sound Anglers Salmon Derby in Point Defiance, Aug. 2; Gig Harbor Puget Sound Anglers Salmon Derby, Aug. 9; South Sound Salmon Derby, Aug. 16; Sekiu Salmon Derby, Aug. 23-24; Willapa Bay Salmon Derby, Aug. 30; Columbia River Fall Salmon Derby in Vancouver, Aug. 30; Edmonds Coho Derby, Sept. 6; Everett Coho Derby, Sept. 20-21; Bayside Marine Salmon Derby in Everett, Nov. 1-2; and Resurrection Salmon Derby in Friday Harbor, Dec. 5-6. Details: www.northwestsalmonderbyseries.com.