OUTDOORS: Solid chinook season coming to a close in Strait of Juan de Fuca

Mason’s Olson Resort Chinook catches like this off of Sekiu have occurred all summer in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as anglers enjoy one of the better salmon seasons in recent years.

Mason’s Olson Resort Chinook catches like this off of Sekiu have occurred all summer in the Strait of Juan de Fuca as anglers enjoy one of the better salmon seasons in recent years.

*Editor’s Note: A portion of this column includes a mention of fishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Freshwater Bay.

The waters of Freshwater Bay south of a line from Angeles Point westerly approximately 4 miles to Observatory Point (Bachelor Rock) are closed to fishing for all species from July 3 to Oct. 31.

This rule can be found on page 107 of the state fishing regulations.

BAIT BALLS LIGHTING up fish finders “like Christmas trees” is news that bodes well for salmon anglers.

And the chinook fishery has been better and more sustained this summer inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound than many preseason forecasts predicted.

“It’s probably been the most consistent year that I’ve seen in 10 years or so,” said Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles.

“Steady, solid fishing since the season has been open. Not saying there haven’t been some slow days, but there’s been so many quality fish this summer.”

Aunspach said chinook have been bigger this summer than in recent seasons, owing to improved ocean conditions and a high-quality and amount of bait, particularly herring.

“The average is more of the 12- to 15-pound class this year rather than the 7- to 10-pounders we’ve been seeing the past few seasons.

“Ocean conditions have got to be optimal with good feed and good water.”

Plenty of feed available

And the bait balls are bigger.

“Never seen so much bait,” Aunspach said. “The screen on the fish finder lit up like a Christmas tree. It’s definitely a lot of herring, a little bit of the bigger ones, the blue and purple and plenty of the smaller ones too, the green and even the yellow and orange.”

Herring used as bait is sold in bags with colored labels, so Aunspach is comparing the size of herring found in salmon bellies to offer a perspective on their size.

“I just got done talking to a guy who was fishing (near) Freshwater Bay with some friends and they brought in six, and that included a 24(-pound chinook), a 22 a 15 and an 8. There’s been numerous big wild fish caught and released and there have been some in the mid-to-upper 20s that have been hatchery keepers.”

“They are going for it [feeding]. We have a strain of quality fish coming through. Last few years fishing would start off gangbusters and then you’d be working hard. This year it’s been limits after limits all season and fish are ripping line.”

Traditional spoon colors such as Herring Aide and Cookie n’ Cream have been enticing for chinook this summer. Aunspach also said the Herring Aide Silver Knight Series and one of the Gibbs colors this year, No Bananas, yellow-green, orange dot a yellowtail version and it has been producing.

Sekiu hot too

Recent creel reports have been excellent at Van Riper’s Resort and Mason’s Olson’s Resort in Sekiu.

It’s been darn good the last week. We’ve been red hot with chinook and had some nice-sized coho come in, some 10- to 12-pounders,” said Brandon Mason of Mason’s Olson Resort (360-963-2311).

“Tuesday there must have been a big run of good-sized fish come through some 15 to 23-pound kings. It was unbelievable, seeing the bait on the fishfinder screen.”

The first-light bite has brought in the majority of fish, but the evening fishery also has produced for anglers.

“Irish cream has been a real good spoon, the Coho Killer and the Herring Aide has been a top lure,” Mason said.

“A green spatterback hoochie with a strip of bait also has been working. And the guys who are pulling whole herring are doing phenemonal. We’ve been moving [selling] through the bait, so anglers are more productive with the bait.

“And the guys who know how to mooch are killing it. There’s herring in all the fish bellies, bigger herring in these fish, too, more like blue or purple than the green line.”

Mason also believes the king fishing has been better this summer than in the recent past.

“Out of the last three years this has been probably the best for king fishing,” he said. “We did pretty good at hitting the quota, we are at 81 percent.

“And there’s still a lot of bottom fishing opportunities. All the bait around has moved them closer to shore and it’s been really good. Good catches are being made just on the other side of the jetty, a lot of nice black and blue sea bass. And anybody who wants to make the 3-mile run to the other side of the Sekiu River in Area 4 can catch six sea bass and two ling cod.”

Just as in Marine Area 6 (Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca), Sekiu (Marine Area 5), will close to king retention Wednesday.

The waters off Port Angeles and Sekiu will be open for a two hatchery coho limit plus two sockeye through Sept. 30.

“We will be open through Sept. 30,” Mason said.

Neah Bay closing

Neah Bay and Marine Area 4 will close to salmon fishing at 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife said that estimates indicate anglers will reach the 5,370 coho quota by that time.

And coho fishing was so hot that the Neah Bay recreational salmon fishery could have ended before last weekend.

“The commercial non-treaty troll fishery donated 1,000 coho to keep them going,” said ocean fishery manager Wendy Beeghley.

“That provided an extra two weeks of fishing. They would have closed two weeks ago.”

The state did what it could to spur anglers to limit out chinook, but the coho catch rate stayed pretty steady all summer.

“We increased the bag limit for chinook to two fish,” Beeghley said. “Initially, we were concerned about chinook because of a lower quota but those numbers never really materialized in great amounts.”

While Marine Area 4 is open, anglers fishing west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line have a two-salmon daily limit but must release chum and wild coho, while those fishing east of the line have a two-salmon limit but must release chum, chinook and wild coho.

La Push (Marine Area 3) remains open.

The daily limit in Marine Area 3 remains two salmon, release wild coho.

La Push hasn’t seen a great deal of effort with 16.7 percent of the area’s 1,090 coho quota and 11.6 percent of a 1,500 chinook guideline caught through last Sunday.

Beeghley said sharing fish between Marine Area 3 and Neah Bay to keep Neah Bay open wasn’t an option because of the small coho quota and chinook guideline.

Neah Bay anglers would likely snap up those fish quickly and would sideline La Push anglers before the scheduled end of fishing on Sept. 3.

“With the tiny tiny quota they have at La Push it would be eaten up quickly by those fishing out of Neah Bay,” Beeghley said.

Hunting for bear

Quilcene’s Ward Norden didn’t have any luck during the bear hunting opener last week. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“Bear hunting season opened [Aug. 1] to a bit of frustration to a few hopeful hunters in East Jefferson County,” Norden said. “Due to extreme fire danger, the state Department of Natural Resources has not just closed down their lands to campfires and target shooting, but they have put out orange signs at many of the locked gates saying no public access whatsoever to some very good walk-in bear hunting areas.

“This is probably a good thing considering some of the activities I have seen by campers, etc. recently. Nevertheless, it is still a bit frustrating to a hopeful bear caller like me.”

Coho in Area 9

In Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet), Norden said he was surprised not to see any anglers casting for coho off of Marrowstone Point.

“Not a soul was down there fishing even though the tide rip that holds coho was an easy cast from the beach,” he said.

“Beach casters on Whidbey Island are already doing well on resident coho up to 8 pounds at Bush and Lagoon Points using Buzz Bomb Jigs, Rotator Jigs, and even a few spinners. I haven’t heard any reports from the points on our side of Admiraly Inlet but those fish should be there too. Fishing for those prime coho will only get better as the month progresses.”

Hood Canal coho

Coho haven’t shown up yet near Quilcene, Norden said.

“There were still no coho in the Big Quilcene River or the hatchery on the Big Quil as of late last week, so it is unlikely there are many coho in the bay yet, but that will change very soon. The run should not only be larger than expected but the fish will be bigger than average when they do arrive in the bay beginning in the middle of next week.”

Salmon/steelheading course

Brian Menkal of Brian’s Sporting Goods and More will offer another two-part Introduction to Salmon and Steelhead River Fishing course at his store, 609 W. Washington St., No. 21 in Sequim, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday with part two following at the same time Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Menkal knows a ton of tips, tricks and locations and offers the course for $40 per person.

To reserve a space, phone 360-683-1950.

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

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