THOSE FINAL HALIBUT dates last weekend? They weren’t so final after all.
Halibut quota remaining is enough to ensure marine areas 3-10 will be open Saturday for a final day of flatfish fishing.
“I got the official word they are going to have about 15,000 pounds for anglers in 3 through 10,” said Marine Area 5 recreational fishing advisor Brandon Mason of Mason’s Olson Resort in Sekiu (360-963-2311).
In an email to Sequim angler Dave Croonquist, halibut fishery manager Heather Reed with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said catch estimates for halibut came in Wednesday morning.
“We just got the catch estimates for the opening on [June] 21 and 23,” Reed wrote. “Based on that information, there was sufficient quota remaining to recommend that the north coast and Puget Sound open for an additional fishing day on Saturday.
“NMFS (National Marine Fishery Service) and IPHC (International Pacific Halibut Commission] just approved that recommendation and we are in the process of getting our emergency rule signed and our notice out.”
Catch estimates slow
Reed said the catch estimates came in a little slower this week because the sampling programs were “producing estimates for both salmon and halibut.”
“We may need to consider the timing of openings, particularly as we get close to the end of the season and the end of quota, when we set up the season structure for 2019,” Reed said.
Many recreational anglers would agree with that last sentence after fighting through severe tidal conditions and bumpy water during previous halibut openings in May and June.
Mason said halibut catches have ticked upward steadily in June since tough fishing and tough weather during May sunk catch rates.
He’d like to see a switch back to staggered halibut openings in the state’s marine areas to better track with the migratory species’ movements as opposed to the current “opening for all” approach.
“Out here we should be fishing halibut all in June,” Mason said. “You go look at those creel reports and May is slow and June is when it picks up. And that tracks with halibut migrating down from Alaska and through the Strait [of Juan de Fuca].
“Once they hit Hein Bank [north of Sequim and south of San Juan Island] they start migrating back up north to the Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska.”
The pull of halibut fishing and the fishery’s limited dates lead anglers to fish the early dates, Mason said.
“Guys set their sights on those first days of the season,” he said. “They blow their cash wad coming out to fish and burn up their vacation to come out for Thursday/Saturday openings. Then they have to save up their vacation time again to come out salmon fishing.”
Anglers who launched out of Sekiu and headed west into Marine Area 4 where salmon and halibut were each open last weekend targeted halibut first, according to Mason.
“It was halibut, that was the priority,” Mason said. “They were getting a halibut, then going after salmon fishing. And they get to do that one more time Saturday.”
And Sunday will mark the opening of Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) for salmon.
Anglers can keep a combination of two salmon (hatchery kings or coho) plus two sockeye.
An early run of coho has showed up in catches coming back from area 4 to Sekiu.
“We’ve seen more coho come in than we did kings,” Mason said. “All in about the 5-pound range. A lot of coho for some reason.”
Anglers should note that lingcod retention is not allowed in waters deeper than 120 feet in Marine areas 5 and 6 now that the recreational lingcod season is closed.
Neah Bay info
Joey Lawrence of Big Salmon Resort (360-645-2374) in Neah Bay said the salmon bite transitioned since last weekend’s opener.
“It started out as an afternoon bite and has become more of an early morning bite,” Lawrence said Wednesday.
He went fishing for both halibut and salmon at Swiftsure Bank last Saturday.
“Nothing really huge out there, a lot of 7 to 12 pound kings, with the occasional 18- to 20-pounder.”
Lawrence said he didn’t see any silvers at that spot nearly 20 miles out in the Pacific Ocean.
“I didn’t see one silver on Saturday,” he said. “We only saw kings and halibut.”
He didn’t see much of a preference for halibut above salmon or vice versa in the anglers that showed up to fish last weekend.
“It seemed like it was split right down the middle,” Lawrence said. “The salmon guys showed up. It seems like the same type of crowd was there for each halibut opening.”
Lawrence said he’s happy halibut anglers will get another day with smaller tides than in recent weeks.
“It started out tough and it seems like every opening we’ve been battling big tides,” Lawrence said.
“There’s no -2 or -3 or -4-foot tides this time. Last weekend, the fishing was better and the water conditions were better with lighter tides.”
No quota numbers yet
Official salmon catch estimates were not available for Neah Bay or La Push as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Coastal salmon fishery manager Wendy Beeghly said Fish and Wildlife was still putting the figures together.
“Anecdotally, I’ve heard chinook fishing was pretty good at Neah Bay, but haven’t heard or seen anything yet about La Push,” Beeghly said.