SALTWATER CHINOOK FISHING has closed for the season for the bulk of the North Olympic Peninsula — while remaining open to hatchery chinook retention off of La Push and south of Ayock Point in Hood Canal.
Now the focus shifts to silvers.
Coho are definitely out in the Pacific Ocean – their abundance off of Neah Bay began in good numbers almost as soon as the salmon season started and quickly passed chinook catches.
It also led to anglers bumping up against quota numbers putting an end to the salmon fishery well before Sept. 3, the last scheduled fishing date. The state estimated coho catches topped out at 92.1 percent of the 5,370 coho quota through the last day of fishing Sunday (4,946) while chinook guideline estimates show that anglers caught 61.7 percent of the 4,900 kings allotted (3,023).
But coho haven’t shown up in strength inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca or Puget Sound.
Creel reports from Sekiu, Port Angeles and Port Townsend aren’t displaying a ton of silver success. This could be because most anglers will tend to prioritize chinook until the king season ends.
The Shilshole Public Ramp in Ballard and the Armeni Ramp in West Seattle has produced some silvers, but it might take a little time before the bulk of the fish swim down the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
This is the opinion of Quilcene’s Ward Norden, a former fisheries biologist and owner of Snapper Tackle Co.
Norden recently made his last rounds of the season in Neah Bay and in Sekiu and did a little digging.
“After talking to certain people and making some observations of water conditions, I am beginning to think this fall’s coho migration may be as much as a month late,” Norden said.
“Coho are not like pinks or sockeye which are hard-wired to come back at a predictable time years in advance. Coho respond to their environment and feeding conditions in order to produce the most viable eggs.”
Intense El Nino’s in the 1980s and 1990s produced dire conditions and increased water temperatures offshore (with barracuda and bonito showing up at Neah Bay).
“The coho responded … by spending extra weeks at sea feeding to grow better eggs,” Norden said.
“Other years with good feeding conditions caused the coho to again be a bit late as the fish gorged to produce fatter, healthier eggs. This year’s extraordinarily good feeding conditions and cooler than normal water temperatures in the Strait may add another three or four additional weeks to wait for the migration.”
Norden was surprised to discover cooler water in the Strait and off of Neah Bay.
“I think the deep ocean current that feeds our inland waters has been extraordinarily active this summer and may have started as early as late last summer,” he said. “That cold, nutrient-rich water may be the cause of our plankton blooms and explosion of the krill population all the way down to Tacoma.
“Why this shift in the deep current is happening is well above my knowledge level but I am surely smiling. Next year’s coho and sockeye runs will be dandies, as well as chinook fisheries for the next three years.”
So, if the silvers are slow in coming in, stay patient and don’t panic.
Shrimp in Canal
Recreational shrimpers will get two consecutive days to harvest spot shrimp on Hood Canal along with an increased daily catch limit on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) will open to recreational shrimp fishing from noon to 4 p.m. on those days, with the daily catch limit bumped up to 100 shrimp per person from the typical 80.
Earlier this summer, the Hood Canal area was open for seven days for recreational harvest but roughly 19,000 pounds of quota remain, said Don Rothaus, shellfish biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“This is a great opportunity for shrimp harvesters to enjoy some time on the water,” Rothaus said. “We don’t typically get many late-season openings in Hood Canal like this.”
Rothaus noted that the northern and southern areas of Hood Canal have yielded the best catches this season. The central section of the canal hasn’t been as productive as in previous seasons.
The only Puget Sound waters currently open to spot shrimp harvest are Marine Areas 4 east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line and Marine Area 5 (Sekiu).
Shrimping seasons, rules and tips are available at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/shrimp.
No more selective gear
Anglers are no longer required to use selective gear in the Big Quilcene River (Rodgers Street to U.S. Highway 101) during the fall coho season running through Oct. 31.
Fish and Wildlife changed the rule to allow anglers to more effectively target hatchery coho.
The rivers’ Anti-snagging rule and night closure will remain in effect during this period.
When in effect, selective gear rules require anglers to use only unscented artificial flies or lures with one single-point barbless hook. The use of bait is prohibited. For a complete description of selective gear rules, see page 11 of the 2018-19 Washington Sportfishing rules pamphlet.
Norden said the change won’t have a huge impact at present.
“There aren’t any fish visible in the river yet where I looked,” Norden said Tuesday. “I didn’t see any at the hatchery today either.
“River sport anglers should wait one more week before wasting gas unless you are in a boat out in front of the marina.”
Norden believes the selective gear rules were designed to allocated more fish to commercial fishers. And snagging became a cause for concern when commercial tribal interests set up shop with barbed treble hooks in front of the federal fish hatchery and scooped up the silvers.
“The result of the new rule will be a 75 to 25 percent commercial/sport split rather than the previous 90/10,” Norden said. “I am not counting the gill net catch which should start right after Labor Day.”
Norden had advice for those fishing under the new setup.
“The best river terminal gear for sports anglers will either be a yarn covered hook 24 inches behind the sinker or a medium size Dick Nite spoon also behind a light sinker,” he said. “The method is called ‘flossing.’ Down toward the mouth of the river if you go there on the outgoing tide, spinners work well.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]