OUTDOORS: Hatchery coho offering options in Quilcene

THE HATCHERY COHO run through Hood Canal, up Dabob Bay and into the Big Quilcene River headed toward the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Quilcene National Fish Hatchery is underway, providing opportunities for saltwater and freshwater anglers to catch silvers.

“Dabob Bay opened for coho fishing two weeks ago with a four-coho daily limit [no size limit] but not much has happened until this week,” said Quilcene’s Ward Norden, a former fisheries biologist and owner of Snapper Tackle Co.

“This week the first waves of that run to the hatchery began arriving right on time. It’s time to get fishing out on the bay.”

Norden notes that anglers will have to target the aggressive nature of hatchery coho, since fish in the bay are staging for a run upriver and not likely to be focused on feeding.

“Because the coho are so close to their river, they are not feeding anymore, but they can be provoked to strike instinctively,” Norden said. “Locally made Rotator Jigs in chartreuse, red or chrome colors are my lures of choice, but on some days, medium-size spinners with brass or copper blades heavy enough for long casts work exceptionally well.

“No other special tackle is required except a steelhead or 7-foot-long spinning rod and a reel loaded with 10- or 12-pound monofilament [fishing line] is needed. The salmon move in schools, so be patient.”

Beach casters also can take part. Just pay attention to the tidal change.

“One of the best ways to enjoy this fishery without a boat is to fish from the beach at the mouth of the river by following the outgoing tide to the mouth then returning quickly to your car on the incoming tide,” Norden said. It is very embarrassing to get a boot full of water when you fish too long.”

Big Quilcene River

Hatchery coho fishing runs through Oct. 31 on the stretch of the Big Quilcene River from Rodgers Street to U.S. Highway 101.

Anglers can keep a daily limit of up to four hatchery coho and must release all other salmon species.

Low water levels on the river in late summer and early fall coupled with unscrupulous anglers have led to numerous snagging violations and a reminder to follow the anti-snagging rule on the river. A night closure also is in effect on the river to prevent poaching.

Dan Magneson, assistant hatchery manager at the Quilcene National Fish Hatchery since 2008, wrote in recently with an overview of the hatchery coho run and some advice.

“We usually observe the very first adult hatchery coho of the season entering our receiving channel around Aug. 1 each year,” Magneson said. “By Aug. 31, roughly one-third of the entire adult hatchery coho run has entered the hatchery. But this is not evenly distributed during the course of August, the closer to Aug. 31, the more the run will have built up.”

Magneson said the percentage of returns to the hatchery receiving channel has risen to about two-thirds by Sept. 18, so it makes sense that overall fishing opportunity and fish quality are best in August and September.

“Although in early October there is still a sizable component of nice silver specimens that slowly diminishes into mostly colored-up fish as the month of October wears on,” Magneson said.

And Magneson cautioned that not every run follows the same predictable return timing, which he attributed to weather and prevailing ocean conditions.

With storms forecast this weekend, potential rainfall could push more hatchery coho upriver.

“Precipitation can also affect movement of the returning adult hatchery coho,” Magneson said. “When it rains enough to start raising the water level/flows and water clarity simultaneously reduces, the fish become extremely active in making their way upstream.”

But it may also be too early in the run for huge numbers of fish to move.

Magneson said a storm on Aug. 29, 2015, produced an unusually strong surge of fish to the hatchery, but the storm came early on in the run.

“Had that storm come two or three weeks later, it would likely have involved an absolutely enormous showing of fish relative to the calendar date,” Magneson said.

Anybody who has spent a warm fall day enjoying the foliage, searching for chanterelles or in better days, attending a Quilcene Rangers football game, understands how beautiful the area can be in October. That’s why it’s Magneson’s preferred time to fish.

“For quality of the experience, however, I would personally choose October,” Magneson said. “The ranks of other anglers on the river are progressively thinning out and leaving one with more and more elbow room, the leaves are turning color, and during clear weather there are those crisp mornings and wonderfully warm blue-sky afternoons.

“After all these years of observation, my advice is to simply go fishing when time allows … I think we’ve all encountered the old adage that ‘The worst day fishing beats the best day working,’ so just going fishing when the opportunity presents itself is probably the best fishing advice that there is.”

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Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or at [email protected].

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