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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 1, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box loaded with spring fishing bliss

photoHere is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for March:

So what was it, that sticks in your mind about 1941? Bet you’re gonna say Pearl Harbor. Nope, not going there. Maybe the year I was born? Wrong! Old but not that old! Hint: remember, this is a fishing column.

Okay, accepting the fact that you give up, here it is: it was the biggest run/return of fall king salmon back to the mighty Columbia River since records at Bonneville Damn began in 1938. Can you say thirty-eight, as in three quarters of a century ago!

So where am I going with this? Hang with me. Back in good ‘ol ’41, about 900,000 king salmon poured into the mouth of the Columbia River. It became the record until 2013 rolled around some 72 years later when a monster return of 1.2 million kings surprised the Pacific northwest, exceeding the forecast of 677,900. Yep, the forecast not only missed the target, it missed the planet!

But that’s okay, from my corner, especially when biologists error on the side of a chinook salmon return that comes in significantly stronger than expected. What’s wrong with more fish coming home?

Do not be misled. This writing is not about attacking my former brothren and sister biologists who have the task of assembling the forecasts every year, for all salmon species, run by run, stock by stock. However, many anglers, who have the privilege of waiting for the actual runs to occur, then, if the biologists making the predictions are wrong, take cover. If you do your homework, you’ll find that the predictions hit the target more often than not, especially for Columbia River fall king salmon which is the backbone for chinook salmon fishing opportunities.

Today, the forecasts for the 2014 run sizes are unfolding. In fact, the forecast meeting, annually hosted by WDFW in Olympia is set for March 3rd, when all the numbers become official.

Since you have followed me to this point, maneuvering your way through this column, time to buckle up. I am talking about required heavy leather and size XXL buckles. King salmon, baby, raining king salmon bound for the Columbia. How does around 1.2 million work for you? Twenty pounders, a repeat of 2013, creating a tsunami from Neah Bay to Ilwaco. Mercy! I can’t take this job anymore!

Yes, I confess to my addiction to chinook salmon, from winter blackmouth to the kings of summer. Dude! It’s at record levels again! Are you picking me up on this frequency? You gotta be kidding me! I’m ready to tip over!

These forecasts, as reported in this space in recent years, becomes my salmon fishing roadmap for the summer through September, taking advantage of what is expected to be hot, and what’s not. One of my long time fishing buddies continues to say: Rule #1, fish where the fish are. Rule #2, reread Rule #1. Okay, okay, I get that as I’ve already started to pull the trigger on summer reservations at Neah Bay and Ilwaco based on the anticipated chinook salmon stampede bound for the Columbia. I can’t wait!

In anticipation of the forecast news, sources at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife suggest the Puget Sound chinook salmon forecast should be at normal levels, or comparable to recent years. Same with coho salmon with a slight increase tossed in, compared to the 2013 run. I’ll take that as we’ve enjoyed some very fine hatchery chinook and coho runs in recent years. Put me in, coach.

Dungeness crab update

Recently, I attended a sport crab advisor’s meeting with WDFW up in Port Townsend, to review the 2013 sport, commercial and tribal fisheries. I learned that the allocation between sport/commercial and tribal crab fishers is running very close to 50/50 as directed by federal court orders. There are some exceptions to executing that formula between sport crabbers and the tribes, where the tribes have exceeded the sport catch (Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, 55% to 45%; Hood Canal, 58% to 42% and south Puget Sound, 65% to 35%). I am hopeful for minor adjustments, in the WDFW 2014 crab management plan to move these percentages in the three geographic areas closer to equity.

As you may recall, sport crabbers were required to start entering their crab catch on catch record cards immediately when landing crab back in 2010. During that initial year, the compliance rate suggested only 20% of crab fishers were recording their catches. Remember, there are about a quarter million of us who chase Dungeness crab in Puget Sound. Today, enforcement reports that the compliance rate is at 93%. Good job!!!

In addition, during the same four year time frame, retention of undersized male crab and female crab has fallen close to zero. Now that’s really a goooood boy/girl!!!

Back to that quarter million number of people who go crabbing in Puget Sound. Every year, according to crab biologists who manage this fishery, one-third of the quarter million number are new crabbers! And, about one-third of the current fishers go away from the sport, maintaining the overall number of crab licenses sold at 220,000 in 2013. That news is very hard for me to fathom. That means that about 70,000 people are discovering crabbing every year. And another 70,000 are apparently sick of eating big, sweet Dungeness crab that they have quit the sport and gone on to bowling, or something like that. Dude! Do not put me in that category as I’m a lifelong crab fisher and I can’t think of many things sweeter than a pinch of Dungeness between the cheek and gum chased by a cold one. Uh-oh, my eyes just went to the back of my head again!

Similar to picking the correct score for the Seahawks annihilation of Denver in the Super Bowl (which I did not do), I am anticipating more great blackmouth fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in March and early April (excluding the San Juans, open through April). Then, another great parade of king salmon begins marching home in early July and August, followed by September coho salmon. Don’t you love this game? I sure do! 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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