MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Salmon derby is bigger and better than ever

ONE SCORE AND 18 years ago, the people of Gardiner-Discovery Bay brought forth on this Peninsula a salmon derby.

Called the Discovery Bay Salmon Derby, it was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that only Iron Men could claim its top prize.

Now, after some civil action kept it away for a year, it has returned to Presidents Day weekend under a new name: the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby.

And it is bigger (500 miles of fishing) and bolder (more than $24,000 in prizes) than ever before.

Of course, it still takes an awful hardy hombre to heed its call.

This is winter blackmouth season we’re talking about, after all; perhaps the Carhartt-wearingest, Dramamine-chewingest, crotch-grabbingest fishery of them all.

If misery loves company, consider this weekend’s derby a fiesta of forlorn fishermen (and women).

I doubt they’d have it any other way.

Winter warriors

So what can anglers expect during this weekend’s derby (other than a morning chill)?

That just depends upon how the weather cooperates, according to Brian Menkal of Brian’s Sporting Goods and More (360-683-1950) in Sequim.

“If it’s really rough out there, you might end up having to troll,” Menkal said.

“If it stays really calm, you might mooch, motor mooch or jig.

“It just depends on what the tides are doing and the wind.”

As it stood Thursday afternoon, winds weren’t expected to be too severe this weekend.

Anglers will have to deal with some strong tides, however. That promises to make getting bait down near the bottom a bit more challenging.

That didn’t seem to bother anglers in Marine Area 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) near Port Angeles after it opened to salmon fishing Wednesday.

Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said there definitely wasn’t a quantity problem during the first two days of the fishery.

“The fish aren’t big, but there’s been a pretty good bite both mornings,” Aunspach said. “[Thursday] was a little slower than [Wednesday], but still real good.

“They were catching them in the Winter Hole, the Flats, down toward the deep tanks by the mill and Freshwater Bay had fish.”

Thus far, just two fish over 10 pounds have been submitted to the Port Angeles Salmon Club’s monthly salmon derby ladder.

That was headlined by a 12-pound beauty from Keith Aggergaard of Port Angeles.

It almost sounds as if such a fish could take home the $10,000 top prize in this weekend’s derby.

“There’s a lot of 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-pounders,” Aunspach said.

Reports have been a little harder to come by out of Sequim and Port Townsend.

Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) has been plagued by rough weather for much of the past few weeks, according to Eric Elliot of the Fishing Hole (360-385-7031) in Port Townsend.

Even when things have cooperated, the pressure has been so-so.

“The people that I have heard from, it sounds like things are going OK,” Elliot said.

“I’ve heard of some fish getting caught, it’s just such a small sample size [to have a good report].”

As for the waters around Sequim, mum’s the word, according to Menkal.

“A lot of people will go out to Hein Bank and Eastern Bank provided they have a big enough boat,” Menkal said, “but they will fish off Dungeness Bar. Anywhere where those drop-offs will be.”

Those looking to avoid the derby crowds have other avenues to pursue blackmouth.

Area 5 (Sekiu) and 12 (Hood Canal) are now both open to salmon fishing, there just hasn’t been much action in either fishery.

Derby particulars

One thing everyone seems to know for sure about this weekend’s derBy there’s going to be a big crowd.

Derby organizer Dan Tatum set the original goal at 1,000 tickets sold, and that just might happen.

“We’ve been selling a ton of tickets,” Aunspach said. “We’re down to under 40 tickets that we have here, so I had to call to get more.

“Just pray the weather holds off so everybody can fish.”

Given the enormity of the derby, that could be quite different from one end of the event to the other.

Boundaries include Area 6 east of Tongue Point, Area 9 north of Point No Point and part of Area 7 (San Juan Islands).

A total of five weigh stations will be spread out inside the boundaries at Freshwater Bay Boat Ramp, Ediz Hook, John Wayne Marina, Gardiner Boat Ramp and Port Townsend Boat Haven.

Fishing will be open from daylight to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and daylight to noon Monday.

The awards ceremony is set for Monday at 2 p.m. at the Gardiner Boat Ramp.

Tickets cost $40 for one day or all three days and will be available at the five weigh stations.

For more information and event rules, visit www.GardinerSalmonDerby.org.

Steelhead stuff

Don’t let the snow keep you away.

The way steelhead are biting out west, it might be worth another dent in your bumper.

“It’s been pretty good,” Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said.

“After all the water calmed down, there’s still plenty around, but the Calawah and Sol Duc are both fishing pretty well.”

Added Gooding, “If it maintains like it is, it should be pretty decent fishing [this weekend].”

While the Sol Duc is a pretty well-traveled river during winter steelhead season, the Calawah can sometimes get overlooked.

Part of that is due to its lack of accessibility, not to mention the fact that it’s one of the more difficult rivers to boat in the area.

For those who can get to a nice patch of water, however, the Calawah can be well worth it this time of year.

Snow arrives

The snow gods finally answered our prayers.

After weeks of little to no snowfall, Hurricane Ridge got absolutely blasted this week with fresh powder.

More than two feet of snow fell on the Peninsula’s winter playground between Monday and Thursday, adding a little extra flavor to the holiday weekend.

While the Poma lift will remain dormant, the intermediate and bunny rope tows will be up and running Saturday through Monday.

For information on lift rates and the ski school, visit hurricaneridge.com.

Skis are available for rental on the bottom level of the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.

Snowboards can be rented from North by Northwest Surf Co., 902 S. Lincoln St., in Port Angeles.

Road status and current conditions for Hurricane Ridge Road are available by phoning the park’s recorded information line at 360-565-3131 or by visiting www.nps.gov/olym.

Avalanche class

Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club will host a custom Level I avalanche class today through Sunday in the Port Angeles area.

The class, which will be offered at a discount, emphasizes safe route finding, snow pack evaluation, making use of weather observations and rescue.

“Knowing how to navigate safely in the mountain environment is crucial for a safe and fun experience in the winter,” Hurricane Ridge Board and Ski Patrol member Gary Holmquist said in a news release.

“The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club is pleased to make this opportunity available to local residents at a considerable discount from similar courses, not to mention eliminating the need to travel.

“In addition, the class will be customized for our local Hurricane Ridge terrain and conditions, which also benefits the participants.”

Cost is $125 for ski club/season pass holders and $175 for nonmembers. Similar classes can run from $300 to $400.

Instructor Niko Weis has more than 25 years of avalanche safety experience.

He was Ski Patrol Director at Mount Washington on Vancouver Island and had an eight-year stint on the Canadian Avalanche Association Board of Directors.

Weis has taught avalanche classes for several years on the Peninsula and is intimately familiar with the terrain and snow of Hurricane Ridge.

The class will meet at the Clallam County Family YMCA, 302 S. Francis St., in Port Angeles at 6 p.m. tonight.

The Saturday and Sunday sessions will be spent on the Ridge.

For more information, contact Frank Crippen of North by Northwest Surf Co. at 360-452-5144.

Razors return

As was mentioned in Thursday’s outdoors column, razor clam harvesting returns to the coast this weekend.

Kalaloch and four other coastal beaches (Twin Harbors, Mocrocks, Long Beach and Copalis) open to afternoon digs today and Saturday.

With surf conditions looking prime and the weather decent, things should be quite productive for those willing to dig.

Here are the tides for each day:

■ Today — Minus 0.9 feet at 6:33 p.m.

■ Saturday — Minus 0.5 feet at 7:13 p.m.

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

Also . . .

■ Point Whitney will see some changes for its upcoming sport clamming season.

While Point Whitney Lagoon will open to sport clamming of all kinds March 1-31, the Point Whitney Tidelands will not open until March 15.

Changes in seasons at the two Jefferson County beaches were made in response to state surveys of the clam populations in the area.

■ Dungeness River Audubon Center’s Bob Boekelheide will lead an owl prowl into the northeastern Olympic foothills Saturday from 7 p.m. to midnight.

The owl prowl is one of two scheduled by the River Center, with another set for March 19 at the same times. The trips are limited to 10 participants.

All participants must register, and space is limited. To register, contact River Center at 360-681-4076.

■ A Hunter Education course — required for any new hunter born after Jan. 1, 1972 — will be offered this March in Forks.

The class will meet March 7, 9, 14 and 16 from 6-9 p.m. at the West End Sportsmen’s Club. There will also be a final test March 19 at 8 a.m.

Students must pre-register and can do so online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/huntered/classes/basic.php.

For more information on the class, contact Randy Messenbrink at 360-374-5718.

■ Waters West Fly Fishing Outfitters will host a free fly-tying and fishing seminar next Saturday, Feb. 26, at its Port Angeles shop.

The seminar, which starts at 10 a.m., will focus on winter steelhead flies and feature guest tyer John Wayne Sadler.

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

■ Admiralty Audubon’s Ken Wilson and Dan Waggoner will lead a birding trip to Skagit County on Saturday, Feb. 26.

A group will take the 8 a.m. Keystone ferry and eventually return around 6 p.m. Carpooling is encouraged, as is contact with trip leaders.

To register for the trip, contact Waggoner at 360-301-1788 or danwags57@gmail.com; or Wilson at tadpoleranch@gmail.com.

■ Washington Trails Association will gather a volunteer work party at Peabody Creek Trail on Tuesday, March 1.

Volunteers will conduct some routine trail maintenance on the Olympic National Park tract. 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; e-mail 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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