Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for June:
I’ll call it the Big Show as June kicks off some incredible chinook and coho salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest. It has the chance of being one of the biggest sport salmon fisheries since 1977 when anglers peaked the graph with more fishing trips and catches of chinook (king) and coho salmon here in Washington than any time in recorded history.
Webster defines June 2014 as the month to giddy-up for the Washington coast. In recent years, that recommendation would apply to July 1st but not this year as the biggest return since the late 1930’s is now underway. Westport, which historically produces the highest chinook catches by salmon anglers on the Washington coast, opens for hatchery chinook only (2 per day) on May 31st through June 13th. It was only a few years ago when these fin-clipped hatchery produced chinook salmon created a tsunami in waters 35-60 feet deep north of the North Jetty to waters slightly north of Ocean Shores. The full season begins June 14th, 7 days a week with a two fish limit but only one can be a chinook salmon (wild or hatchery). Ilwaco’s 2014 salmon seasons are identical to Wesport’s and the catching should get better and better as the summer advances.
The technique to fish Westport is a no brainer. Thirteen pulls (2-feet to a pull), a plug cut or whole herring spinning tightly behind a diver trolled at three to four miles per hour produces mind boggling take downs similar to a circus time professional wrestling match in Vegas.
If fishing downriggers is your game, many anglers prefer the offshore fishery in 250-300 feet of water, sending their flashers and spoons down at least 60 feet, but more likely 90-120. Pay attention to bait and fish marks on your depth sounder to dial in on the preferred fish depth of the day.
A similar phenomena occurred simultaneously a couple of years ago up at Neah Bay, particularly around Waddah Island in June for hatchery chinook salmon. I like trolling around the Neah Bay entrance buoy, on an incoming tide with the downrigger set at 55 feet. Kaboom and limits of gorgeous 15 to 20 pound king salmon. Do I now have your attention?
Neah Bay will enjoy two early weekends in May of king salmon fishing and the results should be interesting. In addition to the weekends in May (May 16-17 and May 23-24) their full blown selective fishery for hatchery produced kings will also open May 31st – June 13th followed by the general opener which begins on June 14th, again 7 days a week.
If you have followed the fishing rules the last 20-30 years, you should be picking up a pattern in this year’s regulations that things are very different. Really? As a long-time student of the seasons and salmon fishing opportunities, there is nothing in modern memory that compares to this year’s coastal fishing rules.
Therefore, if you want to initiate head-on collisions with king salmon this summer, every day during June, July and August, it is critically important to be trailerable and to migrate to areas anticipating a bonanza run of chinook salmon like the Washington coast from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco. I completely understand the concept that you can only be at one place, at one time, but a well-planned trip to Neah Bay, La Push, Westport or Ilwaco should dwarf other regions as the Columbia River fall king salmon run is forecasted at 1.6 million. This forecast is 400,000 chinook more than the all-time record run of 1.2 million unexpectedly set last summer. From Southeast Alaska south, including the west coast of Vancouver Island, salmon fishing regulations have been significantly expanded to reflect this monster forecast. I would have never expected this kind of windfall in my lifetime.
As I have written many times in this space, I have followed these forecasted summer/fall chinook runs for the last 37 years. For my summer king salmon fishing strategies, these forecasts have produced wonderful dividends. As I have also written in this same space, the forecast can be wrong. However, looking forward, with a forecast of 1.6 million chinook salmon, I like the chances of an incredible summer of king salmon fishing, especially at coastal ports that exist along the Big Show.
While the Big Show kicks into overdrive, particularly from early July through mid-August, many other regional king salmon fisheries will open for hatchery produced chinook salmon. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, from Sekiu to Port Angeles will kick off July 1st followed by the north Puget Sound fishery (Port Townsend to the north tip of Vashon Island known as the Area 9 and 10 zones) on July 16th.
The Area 9/10 hatchery-only chinook fishery survived an unprecedented challenge by the Muckleshoot tribe, and was supported by the Puyallup and Nisqually tribes in this year’s North of Falcon salmon season setting process in early April. In fact, the three tribes demanded that WDFW close this important hatchery-only chinook salmon sport fishing opportunity zone from Seattle to Port Townsend for the entire year as the result of poor wild chinook salmon returns forecasted to Lake Washington. Yes, you read the words above correctly. In the meantime, Puget Sound treaty tribes are catching 75% of Puget Sound’s hatchery chinook salmon which is newsworthy coming off this year’s 40th anniversary of the Boldt Decision guaranteeing these tribes up to 50% of the catch. Meanwhile, the Muckelshoot and Suquamish tribes will have a directed chinook gillnet fishery at the entrance to the Lake Washington ship canal to harvest 300 protected and hatchery fish, while the north Puget Sound sport fishery is reduced in time and catch.
While this controversial action by the tribes initiated havoc in the negotiations, the outcome was certainly more positive than the gridlock between the tribes and the state. What does it mean? It simply means, as the result of the growing popularity of the central Puget Sound hatchery-only chinook fishery, kicking off in mid-July, that the season will be shorter, or likely shorter than recent years. Again, be flexible and ready to migrate to one of the many incredible opportunities along the coast. Dude, get your boat trailer wheel bearings greased and ready to roll!
Back to the positive message in this month’s column. Analyzing this summer’s sport salmon fishery outlook, I’m fired up, particularly for the coast and the Strait. After all, if there ever was a year to go salmon fishing, this is it. Go, and go again and again. And as one of my fishing partners likes to say: Rule number one, fish where the fish are. Rule number two, re-read rule number one. 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.)