OUTDOORS: Salmon season off to a solid start

By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News

HOLLYWOOD SCREENWRITERS MAY have been unable to script a more perfect opening day of salmon season weather-wise for those casting about in Marine Areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) on Tuesday.

With temperatures in the low 60s at sunrise and up to the low 80s in the afternoon, dead calm on the water and some success with the chinook fishery, conditions were solid all around.

I checked in with Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles, and he said opening day amounted to “an average of about a fish per boat” in Marine Area 6.

“That’s not phenomenal but definitely solid numbers,” Aunspach said.

“And anytime it’s warm like that, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good fishing, but everything works smoothly and you aren’t battling wind and waves, so that’s a bonus.”

Aunspach mentioned he heard of “some strikes down off the Hook, at the Winter Hole, a few at the Humps, and that Freshwater Bay started turning around later in the morning.

“The kings seem to be running between 8 and 25 pounds, with a few fish over 30 pounds but not keepable.”

By not keepable, Aunspach means wild salmon.

“I caught two of them on opening day but had to send them back,” Aunspach said.

Jerry Wright of Jerry’s Bait and Tackle (360-457-1308) in Port Angeles said anglers were fairing well at the Winter Hole.

“It wasn’t too bad, lots of guys were doing good by the Red Can at the Winter Hole, and I think the time they were catching them was between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Tuesday’s solid start was wiped out by Wednesday’s windy weather.

“Pretty much everybody stayed off the water due to the wind,” Aunspach said.

“I heard of some fish caught out at Freshwater Bay, but those guys had to race back in to beat the wind.”

The wind is forecast to die down to a more manageable level in the Port Angeles area over the Independence Day weekend, so take advantage of our hard-earned freedom and go fish and crab for supper.

Neah Bay report

Out west, Neah Bay continues to be an excellent destination for kings.

From June 23-29, 920 anglers caught 268 chinook and 55 coho.

Those numbers are down from the previous week but the bite is still strong.

It may be one of the better years in recent memory, even the past decade according to Ward Norden, a fishing tackle wholesaler and former fishery biologist.

“For the anglers at Neah Bay with the right ‘extreme’ gear, this is one of the best chinook years in a decade or more,” Norden said.

Norden uses “extreme” because ocean conditions are showing him all the hallmarks of a “classic El Niņo fishing pattern.

“Complete with expanses of red tide,” Norden said of the bloom of red-brown algae that has appeared from Waadah Island east to Sekiu, and possibly even further per numerous reports.

“When there is an El Niņo, chinook go deep — really deep — to avoid the effects of red tide and other surface ocean conditions,” Norden said.

“Most assuredly this week, that means trolling or getting your bait down at least 300 feet.”

Benjamin Maxson, who works for Windsong Charters in Neah Bay (360-640-8728), said its charter trips have been doing well with kings after a record halibut season.

“We’ve been hitting into them from Umatilla all the way along up to Swiftsure near the Canadian border,” Maxson said.

He confirmed Norden’s belief that the salmon are staying low in the water.

“I will say that the salmon have been deeper than we expected at this time,” Maxson said.

“Where we would normally be fishing 120 feet to 170 feet deep, we’ve been going 225 to 300 feet recently.

“Downriggers are a definite benefit.”

As for fishing technique, Maxson said the two Windsong Charters boats have been mooching with banana plug and herring.

Norden agreed with Maxson’s call on the use of downriggers.

“That means 15-pound or preferably 20-pound downrigger cannonballs rather than the usual 10- pound,” Norden said.

“Trolling white, or glo 5- inch Silver Horde plugs at that depth would be an excellent call.

“As the red tide moves inland, as it certainly will, this rule still applies even as far as Ediz Hook since once those fish dive that deep, they don’t quickly come back up.”

Maxson has seen the algae blooms as well, mostly near Waadah Island in the Strait just off Neah Bay.

“If I were wanting to bring my 19-to 20-foot recreational boat out, I’d head out early to catch them off of Waadah and off the Bell,” Maxson said referring to the lighted bell buoy about 500 yards off Dakotah Point just east of Neah Bay.

“People are looking for that dark brown ‘King Water’ and we have it,” Maxson said.

“Take a 5-gallon bucket, scoop it in the water and it will have a brownish tint to it . . . then it’s time to catch kings.”

Maxson said they have room on either of their two charters throughout July and August (and September if things break right) so give him a call if you are interested in a salmon and bottom fish combo trip.

Sekiu conditions

Gary Ryan of Van Riper’s Resort (360-963-2334) in Sekiu mentioned that opening day was “pretty slow.”

“The [state Department of Fish and Wildlife] fish checker said it was about one [salmon] per boat Wednesday and I saw some kings in the 20-pound range,” Ryan said.

“The biggest today [Thursday] has been 18 and I’ve been seeing a lot of 18s come in.

“The tides have gone the other way so I have a feeling we will see some bigger fish from here on out.”

Inside the Strait, fish were being found a little higher in the water column.

“In close to about 150 feet, some said 130 to 150 feet,” Ryan said.

He echoed the algae bloom comments as well.

“Oh yeah, we’ve seen it.

“Last week it was almost like chocolate milk, opening day kind of coffee colored and today more like a tea,” Ryan said.

“But the water temperature is good, 47.4 degrees.”

Low pressure at LaPush

LaPush saw 89 anglers catch 54 chinook and 34 coho from June 23-29 per state fish checks.

“I know LaPush was doing well,” Wright said.

“They are catching some nice chinook around 20 pounds or so about 120 feet down.”

He also heard from an angler that had some success smelt fishing near the Twin rivers out along the strait.

“He did well,” Wright said.

“It’s a little late in the year, but if somebody wants to try that they should hit it on an incoming tide and hope for the best.”

“That’s another early morning gig. Trolling with dodgers with a red hook or a micro squids an inch and a half long, those are pink with a glow head on them.”

River fishing

On the West End rivers front, Wright mentioned a few steelhead in the Sol Duc.

He offered using a super tiny jig and fishing very early in the morning to try for these fish.

On the sockeye side, it’s just like Lake Washington and the Skagit River, a trickle, not the flood that had been predicted.

“They really haven’t shown up in big numbers at all,” Wright said.

“I floated Sol Duc last week and didn’t see many.

“I know guys have been picking up one or two here and there but that’s it, and that’s strange for a fish that usually runs in bigger schools.”

Maxson feels it is the cool ocean water temperatures keeping the sockeye offshore.

“What sockeye fishermen are watching for is the early diversion,” Maxson said, referring to sockeye entering the strait and down to their creeks and rivers of origin.

“If water had been warm two weeks ago, you’d see the sockeye flocking to those littler rivers and watersheds.

“What my skipper [Bill Monette] says is that it tells him we will be fishing kings until late in September.”

Send photos, stories

Have a photograph, a fishing or hunting report, an anecdote about an outdoors experience or a tip on gear or technique?

Send it to sports@peninsuladailynews.com or P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.


Outdoors columnist Michael Carman appears here Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5152 or at mcarman@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 03. 2014 6:02PM
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