OUTDOORS: Halibut in hiding during opening weekend

Mason’s Resort The Orestad family fished out of Mason’s Resort at Sekiu and found success with halibut and lingcod during the recreational halibut opener last weekend.

Mason’s Resort The Orestad family fished out of Mason’s Resort at Sekiu and found success with halibut and lingcod during the recreational halibut opener last weekend.

THE EFFORT CERTAINLY wasn’t lacking for halibut anglers off the coast and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca last Friday and Sunday, during the state’s divided opening weekend for halibut.

But the flatfish were in hiding for much of the opener — save for the 128-pounder brought in by Port Angeles’ Gary Politika and Art Jones off Green Point last Thursday (photo appeared on page B2 of Tuesday’s Peninsula Daily News).

“That’s what we heard too,” said Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles. “Catch rates were pretty low for the massive amount of anglers out there.” With as many boats out there as there were, its been pretty soft so far.”

Maybe keeping these large egg-producing females is an urge halibut anglers need to supress going forward — a subset of readers has reached out in the past to criticize running that type of big fish picture — or maybe the bulk of these migratory halibut have yet to make their way down from points north.

I understand the concerns, but I like a big flattie picture as much as the next, so let’s hope for the latter instead of the former.

Catch totals low

The lack of fish (check the creel reports available at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/creel/puget) and you’ll see dismal catch rates) is puzzling.

“There was beautiful water, beautiful weather, the conditions were right,” Aunspach said.

“The tides were lined up right, everything was right for good fishing. I wish I could put my finger on what it is. Whether the fish weren’t here or what. I know its a migratory fish, maybe their timing is different this year and they haven’t made it down yet.

“I know some of the earlier long-line [commercial] fisheries didn’t do well when they went out.”

Curious timing

A timing issue also arose Saturday when tribal commercial long liners fished for halibut on the rest day between recreational dates in Marine areas 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca).

Usually these commercial fisheries are conducted before recreational fisheries open — this can be seen most often in treaty fish regulations (essentially a notice of intent to fish) sent from tribes to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for halibut, salmon and Dungeness crab and other species.

The sight of commercial boats out fishing upset many recreational fishers, particularly coming so soon after a North of Falcon salmon season-setting process that showed promise and potential in rebuilding some of the fractured relationships between tribal and recreational anglers. Emphasis on some in the last sentence, since the Makah Tribe is one of, if not the most influential advocates for recreational anglers.

And no rational angler begrudges tribal treaty rights to harvest fish. Methodologies maybe, but not the treaty rights themselves. And again, recreational fishing dates aren’t reserved solely for recreational anglers. It’s not an either/or situation on the water, but … the timing seems off.

“It looked like some of the tribal long liners were out on Saturday and pulled those lines out on Sunday,” Aunspach said. “That will always put a little damper out there immediately after.”

Aunspach said he did hear some grumbling.

“They were concerned with the timing and felt that conducting a fishery in between scheduled recreational days was a little out of the ordinary,” Aunspach said.

“The thing of it is if we don’t work together as a group to conserve and protect these fish, nobody will have anything left to catch.”

Brandon Mason, owner of Mason’s Resort in Sekiu (360-963-2311), called on Saturday and said he had reached out to Ron Warren, head of the fish program for Fish and Wildlife, with concerns over the timing of the commercial catch.

“It just seems strange to go right in between the recreational days,” Mason said. “From what I understand they have a 30-day window for the fishery and could have gone earlier like usual or they could have waited.”

Mason also said the timing of the recreational season opener could have been better for all — especially with Mother’s Day falling on the second day of fishing.

It’s difficult to find a silver lining when discussing recreational fishing, but perhaps the most hopeful takeaway from a tough fishing weekend is the potential for more days to be tacked on to the season.

“I definitely have that in the back of my mind,” Aunspach said. “Maybe there will be a few more days added in June to make up for last weekend. Unless the state takes a look at these numbers and decide there’s no fish to catch and shut it down early.”

There’s that glass-half-empty angler attitude with which we are all familiar.

Halibut fishing will resume Friday and Sunday, May 25 and 27 in all open marine areas.

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Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

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