MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: Salmon fishing sluggish at best

IF ONLY WE could party like it was 2009.

A year after one of the best saltwater salmon seasons in a decade, the North Olympic Peninsula finds itself mired in mediocrity.

From the coast all the way to Admiralty Inlet, fishing has simply been “OK,” if not a bit disappointing, during the first month of the season.

This year’s effort on the coast alone — rivaled only by 2008 during the past five seasons — is enough to illustrate just how exciting 2009 really was.

Just take a look at the harvest data provided by the Pacific Fishery Management Council during the past two years.

(All numbers are after approximately four weeks of July salmon fishing.)

• Marine Area 3 (LaPush) — 2009: 1,440 anglers, 196 kings, 1,941 coho, 1.48 salmon per rod (0.14 kings); 2010: 486 anglers, 85 kings, 176 coho, 0.53 salmon per rod (0.17 kings).

• Marine Area 4 (Neah Bay) — 2009: 6,395 anglers, 1,270 kings, 4,953 coho, 0.97 salmon per rod (0.20 kings); 2010: 3,701 anglers, 667 chinook, 855 coho, 0.41 salmon per rod (0.18 kings).

As much as anglers covet kings, it was a massive Columbia River coho run that inspired crowds to come out last season.

Now? It’s hard to say what anglers can hang their hats on.

Tiny turnaround

Or maybe there is still hope.

After all, coastal anglers did experience a brief turnaround this week.

For Randy Lato and company in LaPush, a 30-mile jaunt south toward the mouth of the Queets River brought with it some serious chinook.

That was where, for a couple days at least, anglers got to experience the same sort of action that defined 2009.

“The last few days were phenomenal [30 miles south of LaPush],” said Lato of All-Ways Fishing (360-374-2052). “There were lots of birds [and] lots of bait.

“Two days ago it was just on fire. It just came on and we were having kings on two or three at a time.

Then, “[Thursday] it just dried up. We came in with two [chinook] and we lost one and released a couple of native silvers.”

The short-lived salmon smack down — which even coaxed out a few Westport party boats by Wednesday — was mirrored by another decent fishery in Area 4, according to Joey Lawrence of Big Salmon Resort (360-645-2374) in Neah Bay.

“The fishing has really picked up here as far as king salmon [are concerned],” Lawrence said.

“The hot spots seem to be Swiftsure [Bank] and about 6 miles south of Umatilla [Reef].”

“The coho are mixed in with the fish out at Swiftsure, and we had a good morning bite off of Tatoosh about two miles.

“Fishing is good. As far as [a ratings system] from fair to good to excellent, I’d say it’s good.”

And, yes, that would be quite an improvement over the past few weeks (as the fish count on Page B4 of today’s PDN illustrates).

Strait fishing

It appears the comeback story line just might extend all the way to Marine Area 5 (Sekiu) as well.

Slogging along in its own so-so fishery in past weeks, things started to pick up Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chris Mohr of Van Riper’s Resort (360-963-2334) in Sekiu.

“One day doesn’t a season make, but I’m guardedly optimistic that we’re starting to see some fish that make sense,” Mohr said.

“As far as overall numbers, I think they are catching about three times the number of fish they were catching a week ago.”

The best action came in the morning on Thursday, when anglers picked up a few fish off Slip Point.

Among the biggest Mohr encountered was a 24-pounder. He estimated there were probably six fish over 20 pounds that came in on the day.

“That gives me hope that things are finally back to normal,” Mohr said. “It’s still not matching anything we did last year, but every boat has a fish or two. That helps.”

If only the same could be said in Areas 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet).

Unfortunately, neither area is lighting the world on fire.

“It seems like it’s been kind of an the slower side,” Eric Elliot of the Fishing Hole (360-385-7031) in Port Townsend said.

“One guy I was talking to this morning, his estimate was that it was about one fish for every two boats. But they are still out there.”

Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles didn’t offer up anything much sunnier.

“It’s had its moments,” Aunspach said. “They are catching a few fish, and there’s actually been a few nice ones.

“It’s not red hot, but there are definitely some guys that are out there working that are coming up with some fish.”

Of course, that’s just a pleasant way of suggesting anglers not be so lazy.

The largest salmon submitted to the Port Angeles Salmon Club’s monthly derby ladder in July is 30-pound, 2-ounce monster caught by Brian Reifenstahl of Port Angeles a few weeks back.

Port Angeles’ Matt Nelson brought in a 29-pound, 4-ouce fish last Sunday that is currently in second.

“It sounds like they have caught some fish up and down [Ediz] Hook,” Aunspach said. “The Winter Hole had some pretty good days and Freshwater Bay is off and on.

“In certain places one day they do good and maybe the next day they don’t. So it hasn’t been as consistent as last year by no means.”

Alas, not every year can be 2009.

On the hunt

The animals had their time to get comfortable. Now it’s the hunters’ turn.

Black bear season begins this Sunday, kicking off the beginning of hunting season throughout the Peninsula.

Hunters will likely start things out by lying in wait.

Short of setting a picnic basket trap (which is highly illegal), that’s about the only way one can hope to come across one of Yogi’s brethren.

“You’ve got to sit there for a while,” Aunspach said. “[Bear] are going to go to older clear cuts that have the berries growing in there. That’s where [hunters] are going to kind of sit and look for them feeding.”

Bear typically forage for berries and are also know to dig out grubs inside of old, rotting logs.

A poor blackberry showing might encourage hunters to seek out the latter this year, Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said.

“It’s gonna be a poor year for [blackberries],” because of the unusually cool spring, Gooding said. “Look for somewhere where [there are rotten logs that] are all yellow.”

That means the bear have been feeding in that particular area, he said.

Several hunting seasons are soon to follow in September.

On tap for next month are early archery seasons for elk, early archery and muzzleloader seasons for deer.

The general hunting season for cougar also gets under way with a statewide archery-only season followed by a muzzleloader hunt.

Also opening in September are seasons for forest grouse, mourning dove, band-tailed pigeon and Canada geese.

Freshwater fishing

You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool a summer steelhead.

The stingy steelies, swimming in low and clear rivers throughout the Peninsula, just aren’t very forgiving these days.

That makes getting out at low light quite important.

Luckily, anglers can at least bank on there being fish around.

Sol Duc Hatchery continues to see returning summer steelhead (12 in the last week) and coho (13) in its traps.

The waters around the Calawah and Bogachiel have a fair number of summer steelhead to speak of as well.

There’s even cutthroat sprinkled around the Quillayute System for anyone willing to break out the fly rod.

“They are still getting some fish, but there’s [barely] any water. It’s tough,” Gooding said. “The rivers are low and clear, and there ain’t no doubt about it.”

Those with a willingness to walk might consider heading up to the upper Elwha River inside Olympic National Park.

Catch and release trout fishing on the rivers and its feeder creeks should start hitting a fever pitch in the coming weeks.

Squid squirm

Word keeps going around about how great squidding has been at Port Angeles City Pier this summer.

Yet whenever my special lady friend and I show up and throw out a jig, we get bupkus.

Isn’t that just the way?

Needless to say, we’ll be back again soon. This is, after all, the best time of the year for squid in Port Angeles.

A lot of times, it’s just best to keep an eye on the pier, because once the squid are in, they are in thick.

And they are not shy about latching onto a jig (at least, that’s what I’ve been told).

To learn more about the slimy cephalopods, consult Fish and Wildlife’s website at http://tinyurl.com/2c3hbwv.

Also . . .

• Another set of Peninsula beaches bit the dust this week for shellfish harvesting.

Go ahead and put Dungeness Bay, Sequim Bay and Discovery Bay on the list of beaches closed to harvest because of elevated levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning.

That closes just about every beach on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to shellfish harvesting.

• Waters West Fly Fishing Outfitters will host a two-day fly tying class focussing on summer steelhead at its shop on successive Tuesdays.

The class will meet from 6-9 p.m. on Aug. 3 and 10 at the Port Angeles shop at 140 W. Front St. All materials will be provided. Cost is $50.

Space is limited. To sign up, contact Waters West at 360-417-0937.

• Club members Ken and Mary Campbell will discuss a fishing trip to Coffee Lake during the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishers monthly meeting on Monday.

Ken, a noted wood carver and fly fisherman, and Mary, a professional wildlife photographer, will go into detail about their trip to the Eastern Washington lake in May.

Ken will also demonstrate how to tie one of his favorite flies, while Dave Steinbaugh of Waters West will provide free casting instructions before the meeting at 5:30 p.m.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Loomis Log Cabin at Port Angeles’ Lincoln Park.

• The state Fish and Wildlife Commission will address the revised management policy for Puget Sound Dungeness crab fisheries during an Aug. 6-7 meeting.

The commission is also scheduled to take action on proposed 2010-11 migratory waterfowl hunting seasons at the meetings, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. both days in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., in Olympia

The draft policy for crab, which will be discussed Aug. 7, is available for review at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/policies/draft_c-3609_16jul2010.pdf.

• The Wapiti Bowmen will hold its hunter warm-up on Aug. 21-22 at its club range east of Port Angeles.

Archers will get to shoot at 30 targets, with prizes on the line for those who participate in both days of shooting.

For more information on the event, call club president Pete Joers at 360-681-2972 or send an e-mail to joersclan@msn.com.

• Jim McGinnis will talk about beach fishing for salmon at the Puget Sound Anglers-East Jefferson Chapter monthly meeting on Aug. 10.

The meeting, open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Marina Room at Hudson Point Marina in Port Townsend.

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.