MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOOR COLUMN

STATE OFFICIALS PULLED the plug on the untouchable season this morning.

Healthy, and apparently in its prime, the Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) and 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) selective chinook fisheries ended nine days ahead of schedule at the behest of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Anglers simply ran into too many native chinook for their own good, according to Puget Sound salmon manager Steve Thiesfeld.

“We have gone fairly far over on our impacts that were modeled in the preseason planning process,” Thiesfeld said.

“What we don’t know is whether the forecast we had in the preseason was spot on, high or low.”

Thus, the state had to euthanize what had previously been a quota-free fishery in order to protect endangered wild chinook stocks.

“There are a number of places inside [Puget Sound] where there just aren’t many fish at all,” Thiesfeld said.

“The Marine Area 9-10 fishery [Admiralty Inlet/Seattle-Bremerton] has been slow. Lake Washington is well below the average for this time of year. The Skagit River fishery has been doing much poorer than we thought it would. In Area 11 [Tacoma-Vashon Island], the recreational fishery has been slow.

“There’s nothing that tells us there’s an abundance of wild fish overall. That gives us concern that maybe the forecasts were too high.”

Thiesfeld said preliminary estimates had Area 5 and 6 anglers handling approximately 17,500 wild chinook as of Aug. 2, well over the preseason estimate of 7,100.

I would try to explain the complicated sampling process the state uses to come up with these numbers, but that would take the rest of this column.

Even if I did, some of you would likely scream “shenanigans” anyway. So what good would it do us?

The bottom line is this:

The state’s numbers point to anglers encountering a heap of wild chinook inside the Strait. Since those stocks are in trouble, the state will always err on the side of caution . . . quota-free season or not.

“This is an extraordinary abundance of fish that are out there [in the Strait],” Thiesfeld said. “We haven’t seen anything like this in the previous years of the selective fishery. If we saw something like this in any of our fisheries, we would take some kind of action.

“We always make in-season adjustments where necessary. It just happened to be Area 5 and 6 where that was happening this year.”

King free

None of that eases the pain of Strait salmon anglers.

Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles could hardly hide his disappointment.

“Very depressing at the least,” he said after having to scrap another go at the chinook this weekend. “It hurts.”

No doubt many others are feeling his pain after Wednesday’s abrupt announcement.

Perhaps the piles of pinks and coho coming through the Strait right now can make things a little better?

After all, Sekiu is currently awash in coho and pinks.

Yes, as Thursday’s fish count illustrated — 56 anglers bringing in 13 chinook, 38 coho and 75 pinks — there’s still plenty of salmon around Area 5.

“We have a lot of fish coming in, and we have for the last week,” Tasha Dowley of Olson’s Resort (360-963-2311) in Sekiu said. “There’s really no general direction that’s doing better.”

Things aren’t quite as sunny near Port Angeles, however.

While there are definitely a fair amount of humpies to be had, scoring coho might prove to be a bit more difficult.

The silvers have just been hard to pin down in Area 6 the last few years.

“They get so spread out it’s hard to find [the run],” Aunspach said. “It’s not like kings, where they get concentrated in one spot.”

Anglers will be able to fish for pinks and hatchery coho in both areas seven days a week through September.

The current daily limit is two salmon, plus anglers may keep two additional pink salmon.

Hot out west

Salmon fishing continues to remain red hot in Areas 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay). Maybe even a little too hot.

As Randy Lato of All-Ways Fishing (360-374-2052) in Forks said, “We’re going to be needing to borrow some fish from somebody soon.”

Indeed, both LaPush (coho) and Neah Bay (chinook) are getting dangerously close to exceeding preseason guidelines after six weeks of fishing (see numbers on Page B4 of today’s PDN). And things only continue to get better in week seven.

“You can get into them five miles out,” Lato said of the coho run off LaPush. “We’re seeing fish in the teens, and they are stuffed. There’s just a lot of feed out there. And they are just pigging out.”

Neah Bay anglers are seeing nearly the same sort of silver action, not to mention a strong king bite to boot.

“The kings are anywhere between Makah Bay and Father and Son Rock on the ocean,” Joe Lawrence at Big Salmon Resort (360-645-2374) in Neah Bay said.

“They are fishing real close to shore for these kings. They are in 20 to 60 feet of water bottom depth, and they have to get down 15 or 20 feet to nail these kings.

“Most of the people are just targeting coho [inside the Strait], but the people that do know where to go and how to baitfish are doing really well on the kings.”

Eastern angling

Hot certainly wouldn’t describe the Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) salmon fishery.

Catch rates were less than spectacular the last two weeks, and there’s little evidence to suggest things have changed much since.

That doesn’t mean anglers have to go home empty-handed around Port Townsend, according to Wayne Bibbins of Down Home Charters (360-643-1960).

“There’s some real small windows of opportunity out there where you’ve got to be right in the zone, the right speed, in the pocket just right,” he said.

“We’re catching our fish pretty steady and early in the morning. It’s not a slam show, but I’d call it good steady fishing.”

Trollers continue to rule the roost, with flashers and any variation of hoochies, coho killers or spoons and bait working. There is no magic bullet to speak of, however.

“All the fish we’re catching are a good 15 to 20 pounds [in size],” Bibbins said. “The coho should be showing up really good in a few weeks.

“We’re starting to get a fair amount of pinks, too.”

Dungeness poachers

Time to get on my high horse.

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Marian Snyder called to notify me of some illegal poaching going on in the Dungeness River.

It seems handfuls of anglers have been hitting the Dungy to snag returning humpies lately and have hooked a few spring chinook in the process.

There’s a couple of problems with that:

First, the Dungeness doesn’t open to salmon fishing until October. And second, at no point does that include chinook retention because the river’s stocks are absolutely depleted.

“These guys are going after pinks coming in, but they are getting these really rare chinook also,” Snyder said. “That’s part of that stock they are trying to save [at Hurd Creek Hatchery]. They’ve had only 21 return this year.”

That’s well under the hatchery’s escapement goal, according to Snyder, which is used to create a brood stock for future chinook runs each year.

It’s bad enough these guys are going for spawning humpies, whose meat is often sub-par at best at that point. But to harm an endangered run?

We got two words for that where I come from: weak sauce.

Hunting

Cougar hunting season will have a different look this year.

Under new rules adopted by the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the general cougar season will begin with a statewide archery-only season Sept. 1-25, followed by a muzzleloader-only season Sept. 26-Oct. 16.

Beginning Oct. 17, hunters may use any legal weapon to target cougars in most areas of the state.

That is a change from past years, when cougar hunting season began Aug. 1 and hunters had any legal weapon at their disposal.

The changes were adopted to match cougar hunting with the early elk and deer seasons, Fish and Wildlife carnivore specialist Donny Martorello said in a news release.

Details on the 2009 cougar season are available on page 50 of the Fish and Wildlife’s Big Game Hunting pamphlet.

Black bear season began last Saturday throughout the Peninsula, kicking off the year’s hunting activities.

Also . . .

• Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe fisheries biologist Larry Ward will address the Grey Wolf Fly Fishing Club at its monthly meeting at the Gardiner Community Center, 980 Old Gardiner Road, this Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Ward’s discussion will focus on the prospects of using native winter steelhead for restoration of the Elwha River watershed.

• Crab season continues throughout the Peninsula, with Hood Canal now also open Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Crabbing is open seven days a week in Areas 4 and 5, while Areas 6 and 9 join the Canal in being open Wednesdays through Saturdays.

• Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer Phil Henry will talk at the monthly meeting for the East Jefferson Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers on Tuesday.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be held in the Marina Room at Hudson Point Marina, 103 Hudson St., in Port Townsend.

• Waters West, 140 West Front St. in downtown Port Angeles, will conduct a free fly-tying seminar focussing on summer-run dry flies Saturday at 10 a.m.

Another fly-tying seminar demonstrating several freshwater cutthroat patterns is set for Aug. 22.

For more information, contact Waters West at 360-417-0937.

• Olympic Raft and Kayak offers free, one-hour kayak trips on Lake Adwell each Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Space is limited. To register, call 360-452-1443.

• The Clallam Bay-Sekiu Lions Club will host its annual Kids’ Salmon Derby for children ages 5-14 next Saturday.

There is no entry fee, and registration begins at 5:30 a.m. at either Curley’s, Van Riper’s or Olson’s resorts in Sekiu. Weigh-in will be at noon.

The first, second and third largest legal salmon caught will win prizes as well as the largest bottomfish. For more information, call 360-963-2442.

• Hood Canal District biologist Thom Johnson will speak at the monthly meeting of the North Kitsap Chapter of Trout Unlimited at the Conference Room at Central Market in Poulsbo on Monday at 7 p.m.

• The ninth annual Hood Canal Salmon Derby will be held Aug. 15-16 at the Port Dock near Hoodsport.

Tickets are $25, and participants can try for a first prize of $1,000. Weigh-ins will be at the Port Dock. For more information, contact Clint Muns at 360-490-8482.

Call us, photos welcome!

Want your event listed in the outdoors column?

Have a fishing or hunting report, an anecdote about an outdoors experience or a tip on gear or technique, why not share it with our readers?

Send it to me, Matt Schubert, Sports Department, Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362; phone, 360-417-3526; fax, 360-417-3521; e-mail matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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Matt Schubert is the outdoors columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Thursdays and Fridays.

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