MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Halibut fishing starting to slow down

TIME FOR A reality check.

The opening two weeks of halibut fishing on the North Olympic Peninsula were like the first month of a brand-new relationship.

Those are the times when all of those little personal peccadillos are endearing treasures. And the only fights are over who’s “schmoopie.”

Then you start to notice a thing or two that rubs you the wrong way (“Wait, did I just hear her meow?”).

Every time it comes up it gets worse and worse (“Yes, she did it again. Why in the world would she do that?”).

The next thing you know, the person sitting across from you isn’t so cute and cuddly anymore, and, frankly, neither are you.

The flaws have been exposed, and you both realize: This is going to take some work.

Because that meowing isn’t going away, and neither is your excessive back hair (perhaps that last one only applies to me).

Well, my dear Peninsulites, welcome to that crossroads with halibut.

Tide change

The first two weekends were simply too good to be true.

We’re talking about nearly one halibut (415) per boat (452) kind of stuff on the North Olympic Peninsula. That, my dear Peninsulites, is historically good . . . not just good.

As longtime fish checker Larry Bennett said, “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never seen that many fish coming in. A normal good day is half as many fish as boats.”

Well, don’t expect the Strait of Juan de Fuca to put out quite like the former this weekend.

In fact, with the tides on the move each morning, the latter would actually be downright decent.

Anglers found that out across the Strait on Thursday, when early morning minus tides had many struggling to keep their gear down.

“The tides are ripping a little bit,” Randy Jones of Venture Charters (360-895-5424) in Sequim said. “It’s not bad in the afternoon, but it’s bad in the morning.”

Yes, the good times can last only so long.

“It’s slowed down considerably with the big minuses,” Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said. “Things have definitely quieted down.

“It was the best that I’ve ever seen since I’ve lived here [before Thursday]. I’ve heard of a few 90-[pounders], some 70s and some 80s, but a lot of fish in that 30-pound class and under.

“Just real, real good fishing.”

Such success stories spread across the entire eastern Strait with Port Townsend- and Sequim-area anglers getting in on the action.

Several of the traditional Port Angeles holes have been producing, with Aunspach emphasizing 31-36 Bank, the Rock Pile and out in front of Whiskey Creek and Ediz Hook.

There are reports of a couple 100-plus-pound fish coming out of Admiralty Inlet, while anglers out of the Dungeness fishery hooked a few triple digit flatties as well.

That included Ryley Fee’s 75-inch bruiser caught near Protection Island last Saturday.

“It was one of those rare times where the wind has been down and the tide was running good,” Brian Menkal of Swain’s Outdoor (360-385-1313) in Port Townsend said.

Added Menkal, “There are very few ideal times to go [with perfect conditions].”

Obviously, this weekend isn’t one of them.

Although given the first two weeks’ production, there is hope. Loads of fish are certainly around.

It’s just a matter of getting some bait in front of their faces.

“These three days will be tough,” Aunspach said. “A guy is going to have to back troll, run his motors to slow himself down or even try to get to little shallower water.

“If you want to fish the deep water, you’re definitely going to have to back troll.”

Coastal opener

Flatty struggles weren’t just reserved for Strait anglers Thursday.

Thursday’s coastal halibut opener in Marine Areas 3 (LaPush) and 4 (Neah Bay) wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire either.

But Randy Lato of All-Ways Fishing (360-374-2052) in LaPush wasn’t blaming this one on tides.

“I just don’t think there is very many fish out there,” said Lato, who fished the southwest corner of the bottomfish closure zone Thursday. “We got our fish, but it was tough.

“There must have been 140 boats out there [in LaPush], and when I got to the dock from the time that I gassed up and cleaned the fish, I think there were two fish that were for sure over 40 pounds.”

Reports were hit-and-miss near Neah Bay as well.

Those fishing inside the Strait struggled to fight the tides, while those making the jaunt out to the ocean picked up a few fish, according to Mike Lawrence at Big Salmon Resort (360-645-2374) in Neah Bay.

“Pretty good from some and not very good for others,” Lawrence said. “My friend just went out to Swiftsure, and they all got their limit in five bounces.

“The guys going all the way out [to the ocean] are getting theirs, the Swiftsure guys are having mixed feelings and the Strait is tough unless you have a slack tide.”

Lato and Lawrence each said the lingcod were a little more plentiful in both fisheries.

Each will reopen to halibut fishing on Saturday, with two more openers set for May 20 and 22.

If sufficient quota remains, the fishery will reopen June 3 and 5.

Gettin’ fresh

Expect the trout to start going deeper and deeper into area lakes as the weather continues to warm up.

Ward Norden of Quilcene said he thinks spring is running about two weeks late this year (hard to argue with that), meaning any lake closure could come later than expected.

“Anglers fishing [Lake Leland] are still doing OK for trout,” he said. “A few catfish are starting to appear, although it is still a bit cold for a serious catfish bite.

“I will begin fishing the cats in evenings in July when not chasing bass or big bluegill.”

It appears that the trout planting has all but ended on the Peninsula.

The last lake to receive a fresh batch of rainbows was Sutherland near Port Angeles.

It got 3,000 catchable rainbows on May 3.

Kids fishing

The last of the kids fishing days comes to the Sequim reclamation ponds near Carrie Blake Park this Saturday.

A total of 1,500 rainbow trout (some up to six pounds in size) have been stocked in the ponds in preparation for the free fishing event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Children ages 14 and younger are welcome to participate. There will also be a special pond with a separate stock of trout available for toddlers.

The event is being put together by Puget Sound Anglers-North Olympic Peninsula Chapter for the eighth year in a row with the help of Fish and Wildlife and the Sequim Public Works Department.

Anglers can bring their own poles and bait, although the club is more than willing to supply both to those who need it.

Club members will also be on hand to clean and ice the children’s catch, with recipes also provided.

The pond will remain open to children ages 14 and younger throughout the summer.

It will be stocked with an additional 1,000 fish in the coming weeks.

Canal shellfish

A series of minus tides will expose beaches throughout the Peninsula this weekend.

Dosewallips State Park and Duckabush should both offer good digging opportunities for anyone looking to score some shellfish.

The Jefferson County beaches are known to have abundant populations of clams and oysters, and each will see some serious minus tides today through Monday afternoon.

Here is a listing of tides for each of the next four days:

• Today: -2.48 feet at 11:48 a.m.

• Saturday: -2.93 feet at 12:29 p.m.

• Sunday: -3.06 feet at 1:13 p.m.

• Monday: -2.82 feet at 1:59 p.m.

For information on shellfish regulations, visit http://tinyurl.com/2aelag7.

Also . . .

• Razor clam digs at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks this weekend have been approved by the state.

Long Beach and Twin Harbors will both open to digging Saturday (-1.6 feet at 8:15 a.m.) and Sunday (-1.6 feet at 8:58 a.m.) morning, while Copalis and Mocrocks are only open Saturday.

• As was mentioned in Thursday’s outdoors column, Hood Canal shrimpers are unlikely to receive any additional harvest dates this spring.

The Discovery Bay shrimp district will open for two more dates next Thursday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Areas 4 (east of Tatoosh), 5 and 6 are open through Sept. 15.

• Jack Ganster of Survivor’s Outdoor Experience will hold a free intro to backpacking clinic at Swain’s General Store in Port Angeles on May 22 at 11 a.m.

The clinic will focus on making the transition from car camping and day hiking to back country backpacking.

• Hunters can now purchase special-permit applications for the 2010 season.

The application forms are posted on Fish and Wildlife’s Web site (http://tinyurl.com/2bk2j46) and are also available at license vendors around the state. Hunters must return their applications by May 26 to be eligible.

All completed applications must be submitted via a toll-free telephone number (1-877-945-3492) or on-line (http://tinyurl.com/24sfw5a).

• Peninsula Sierra Club member Norm Baker will talk about restoring depressed Puget Sound rockfish populations at the Puget Sound Anglers-North Olympic Peninsula chapter’s monthly meeting on Thursday.

Baker will discuss the state’s ecosystem-based management plan and how it could help save rockfish in our local waters.

The meeting begins at 6:45 p.m. at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 S. Blake Ave., in Sequim.

• Chris Peterson will talk about the history and future of the NPR program “Bird Note” at the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society’s monthly meeting next Wednesday.

The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Dungeness River Audubon Center, 2151 Hendrickson Road, in Sequim.

• Don Rice of Dungeness Kayaking will hold an introduction to sea kayaking class this Saturday and Sunday.

The cost of the class is $135, with Olympic Peninsula Paddlers Club members receiving a 25 percent discount.

For more information, visit www.dungenesskayaking.com, or contact Rice at 360-681-4190.

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; 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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