MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Halibut are hit and miss during first week of season

WHENEVER WORD OF a monster flatty caught in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca leaks out, more often than not, the location is said to be “off Protection Island.”

Could it be that this is the land of the slabs? Or perhaps it’s just another way of telling the questioner “out in the ocean?”

Whatever the case, it seems the best bet for halibut hunters these days is to head east. According to early reports circulating around the North Olympic Peninsula, that’s where the big bruisers are.

That includes a 158-pound fish caught Saturday off, you guessed it, Protection Island.

“That was the biggest one I’ve seen so far,” said Eric Elliott of the Fish-N-Hole (360-385-7031) in Port Townsend, who saw the fish first hand.

“He was [saying], ‘I don’t know what to do with this big thing.”

Obviously, that’s the sort of problem any angler would love to have.

But with most of the fish falling more into the chicken halibut realm (10 to 30 pounds) during a hit-or-miss first week, it was an uncommon one.

The Port Angeles area honey holes didn’t pay off too well during those first three days, Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said.

Things did manage to turn around Thursday, however, with anglers hooking most of their fish either east or west of Port Angeles in spots like Green Point, 31-36, Rock Pile, Dungeness Spit and out toward Freshwater Bay.

“It’s definitely picked up today,” Aunspach said. “I just came from out there and talked to [the fish checker on Ediz Hook], and they had something like 32 fish for 48 boats.

“There has been some big ones caught [this season] east down by Protection Island, some 150s, 100s and a [125-pounder].”

Randy Jones of Venture Charters (360-895-5424) in Sequim hasn’t run into any of them.

He has picked up nine fish so far this season, however, including one 40-pounder caught Thursday.

“I know one out on [Dungeness Spit] and we got ours inland, not too far in, but kind of in that big trough there just off Dungeness Bar,” Jones said of Thursday’s fishing.

“I haven’t heard anything over 80 pounds yet, only a rumor of an 80 pounder.”

Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet) are open to halibut fishing Thursdays through Saturdays the next two weeks.

If the weather cooperates, things should only get better the rest of this weekend.

Unlike last week, the tides will be quite cooperative today and Saturday.

Coastal halibut

Mother Nature must not be a fisherman (or woman).

For the second straight week, poor weather conditions had anglers running back to the docks — or, in some cases, the bows of their boats — during another halibut season opener on the Peninsula.

This time, it came Thursday on the coast, when only the hardiest of characters hooked a halibut in Area 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay).

“It [spring storm] came in around 6:30-7 o’clock, and it just slowly got worse throughout the day,” Joey Lawrence of Big Salmon Resort (360-645-2374) in Neah Bay said.

“Even the Straits were fairly rough. It was really your salty dogs who stayed out there today.

“The ones that did tough it out had some nice fish.”

Among those iron-stomached stalwarts was Terry Donlin of Sea-Tac, whose group brought in three flatties weighing between 46 and 100 pounds.

Unfortunately, such success stories were few and far between for halibut.

“We’ve seen a lot of fish for today, but we’ve seen more sea bass and lingcod just because of the weather,” Lawrence said.

“Most of the effort for the guys that did rough it out, they went down to that sea closure [area].

“The charters really had to work hard today as well. Some of them didn’t even limit out, due to the weather. Those guys usually catch fish no matter what.”

Coastal anglers are only guaranteed three more days of halibut fishing on the coast, with the season set to reopen Saturday as well as May 18 and 21.

More dates could be added if sufficient quota remains.

Shrimp show

Predictably, the first week of spot shrimp season on the Peninsula was spotty.

And I’m not just talking about the white spots Mother Nature decided to place on those cranky crustaceans’ backs, either.

From all reports, Saturday’s opener was either bang or bust across the Peninsula.

Not surprisingly, Hood Canal was more the former than the latter.

“Overall effort was generally down on the opener probably due to the weather — and maybe gas prices – but the catches were pretty good overall,” state shellfish biologist Mark O’Toole said.

The estimated number of boats for the opener dropped from 1,477 in 2010 to 1,458 on Hood Canal this year.

While average catches weren’t down significantly, they did fall from 16.00 pounds per boat in ’10 to 14.84 on Saturday.

The Discovery Bay Shrimp District saw a rise in both numbers, with 43 boats averaging approximately 10.39 pounds each. That’s up from a paltry average of 7.53 pounds per boat last spring.

(Wednesday harvest data was unavailable.)

Port Angeles Harbor ended up being the biggest disappointment of them all in the first week of harvesting.

“Shrimp is absolutely dead in the harbor,” Aunspach said. “Everybody I’ve talked to has either come up with an empty pot or they got two or three [shrimp].

“They are out in the deep water places wherever they do it out off Dungeness and Protection Island, but there’s definitely nothing right here.”

Hood Canal has two more scheduled openers from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and May 25.

Discovery Bay opens one final time from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

Area 9 opened last Saturday and Wednesday and is unlikely to reopen again.

Areas 4 (east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line), 5, and 6 are open daily.

Freshwater fever

Our extended winter comes with at least one bonus:

Anglers could very well see an Anderson Lake fishing season that lasts, gasp, into early June.

The way Greg Thomason of Jefferson County Environmental Health explained it, the absence of warm weather and sunny skies this spring may keep Anderson open a little longer than in years past.

Last week’s water tests were the first to detect any blue-green algae at Anderson. According to Thomason, that’s later than normal.

“My hypothesis of the reason we haven’t had any blooms up until now is because we’ve had a late spring,” said Thomason, an environmental health specialist.

“If we get a lot of sunlight and the temperatures warm up here, [a bloom] probably will happen,” soon after that.

Preliminary results from samples taken May 9 showed toxin levels to be extremely low for both anatoxin and microcystin.

That means fishing should be free and clear for the immediate future at Anderson, even if the lake’s closure is an inevitability.

All that being said, lake anglers might be best suited heading to Sandy Shore, which has had the best early returns of any lake on the Peninsula.

“Sandy Shore seems to be producing pretty well,” Brian Menkal of Brian’s Sporting Goods and More (360-683-1950) in Sequim said.

“[Anglers are catching] 10-12-inch fish, so that’s not too bad. I think a couple went up to 14 inches.”

■ One other freshwater note: The Hoh River will open a few days early for salmon and other fishing this Saturday.

The river’s spring chinook fishery is open Wednesdays through Sundays from the Olympic National Park boundary upstream to the DNR Oxbow Campground boat launch, and from the boat launch upstream to Willoughby Creek.

Also . . .

■ Not for nothing, but May is typically the first month of spring migration for squid through Puget Sound.

Squid normally begin swimming into the Strait of Juan de Fuca in mid to late May, making their first appearance in Neah Bay around that time.

It isn’t until late June, however, that jiggers can expect to see decent numbers of squid at Port Angeles City Pier.

■ Puget Sound Anglers-North Olympic Peninsula chapter will host a special seminar on fishing for summer kings at its monthly meeting Thursday night in Sequim.

The seminar will cover prime fishing locations, methods, top tackle and use of electronics for targeting the summer salmon.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Trinity Methodist Church, 100 Blake Ave.

■ Kids Fishing Day comes to the Sequim water reclamation pond next Saturday, May 21, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

A total of 1,500 trout will be stocked into the pond for the free event presented by the North Olympic Peninsula chapter of Puget Sound Anglers.

Children ages 14 and younger will be allowed to participate, with a special pool also set up for toddlers to fish.

■ Admiralty Audubon’s Dan Waggoner will lead a spring birding trip through Anderson Lake State Park on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

The trip is part of a weekly bird walk series led each week during the month of May by Waggoner.

To register for the walk, contact Waggoner at 360-301-1788 or danwags57@gmail.com.

■ Olympic National Park is recruiting trail stewards to adopt trails throughout the park.

An Adopt-a-Trail orientation will be held May 21 at 9 a.m. Those interested should meet at the Trails Shop in the maintenance compound at park headquarters in Port Angeles.

For questions on the program or to sign up, contact volunteer program coordinator David Merritt at david_merritt@nps.gov.

■ Dungeness River Audubon Center is currently holding its annual Spring Fling fundraiser.

Held during the month of May, the event raises money by asking volunteers to solicit pledges for doing any number activities, including walking, biking, birding or dancing.

To learn more about Spring Fling, visit www.dungenessrivercenter.org.

■ Razor clam diggers will get one more set of harvest dates along the coast starting Wednesday.

Twin Harbors will open to morning digging May 18-22 while Mocrocks opens May 20-22 and Long Beach on May 21-22.

For more information on coastal razor clams, visit wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams.

■ Coastal Conservation Association-North Olympic Peninsula chapter will hold an open forum on saltwater salmon fishing at its monthly meeting May 26.

Members will discuss various fishing styles and strategies at the meeting. It is set for 6:30 p.m. at Wine on the Waterfront, 115 E. Railroad Ave., in Port Angeles.

■ Washington Trails Association will gather an all-day work party at Peabody Creek Trail inside Olympic National Park on May 26.

Volunteers must pre-register 48 hours in advance. To pre-register, contact Washington Trails at 206-625-1367 or visit www.wta.org.

Send photos, stories

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; email matt.schubert
@peninsuladailynews.com.

__________

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

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