OUTDOORS: Sunny, dry days spook the fish

SOMEONE MIGHT WANT to send out a search party for winter, because I’m not sure where it went.

Isn’t February on the North Olympic Peninsula usually accompanied by cloud-filled dark skies, buckets of rain and a generally dour populace?

I haven’t seen any of that since we recovered from “Snowpacolypse Now” at the end of December.

Rather, the days have been drenched with sunlight, the overall dreary disposition normally associated with this time of year all but burnt away.

Surely, the normally lucrative antidepressant business is in a tailspin.

What’s there to get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) about?

Summer steelhead?

Oh, but there is one big complaint coming out of the West End.

This summer-like weather — or to put a finer point on it, the lack of rain — has made for a frustrating if not oddly familiar winter steelhead season.

Rivers across the Peninsula continue to drop by the day without a steady trickle of liquid sunshine, turning the normally wet and weary fishery into a hunter’s game. The fish are easier to spot, but so are you.

As a result, anglers have to be a little quieter, a little less conspicuous, a little more . . . sneaky.

“There’s some decent fish around,” Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks said. “I saw one the other day that was 22 [pounds]. They are okay. It’s just that you’ve got to be awfully careful.

“You can’t make too much noise, because [the rivers are] so low and you’ll spook fish in a minute.”

Yes, it’s as if it’s summer steelhead season, except the Calawah Ponds isn’t the spot. Instead, the Lower Hoh appears to be drawing the crowds.

And it’s just as difficult to catch a fish.

“Most everybody is fishing down there [on the Hoh] because it’s the only one that has enough water to float down, plain and simple,” Gooding said.

“Sol Duc [is] extremely low and clear. There’s some rafts going down there, and they are getting a fish here and there, it’s just tough.”

Blackmouth

Of course, you’d probably find a middle-aged male “Twilight” fan before you ran across someone complaining about the calm, sunny skies on the saltwater.

The practically blissful conditions have made for some enjoyable fishing across Marine Areas 5 (Sekiu), 6 (eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) and 9 (Admiralty Inlet).

The crowds came out in droves for the 33rd edition of the Discovery Bay Salmon Derby (more on this later), as well as the winter blackmouth open in the waters near Port Angeles. Bob Aunspach at Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said they were greeted by some decent fishing.

“It’s not red hot, but there’s been fish caught every day this week,” he said.

“They’ve been catching fish off [Ediz] Hook, Winter Hole, Freshwater Bay. It’s mostly the trollers that have been catching the fish because the fish haven’t been concentrated.”

Swain’s General Store’s monthly derby ladder, back for the second year in a row, has already been filled one week into the season, with the top fish weighing in at 14 pounds, eight ounces.

Anglers can enter the monthly derby by purchasing a $40 ticket for the Port Angeles Halibut Derby in late May.

Any fish caught in Area 6 can be entered into the ladder.

“Flashers and spoons seems to be the ticket,” Aunspach said, adding that it’s best to get your gear right on the bottom.

The same can be said for pretty much any other blackmouth fishery.

That includes Area 5, which has produced a few chinook of its own, according to Dan Spomer at Olson’s Resort (360-963-2311) in Sekiu.

“There’s some nice fish here,” he said. “We’ve had them up to 17 pounds, but I’d say most of them are in the 10ish range. The evening seems to be the better bite. It’s pretty typical stuff. Just troll it real close to the bottom and be patient.”

Derby stuff

Good things, or in this case, $5,000, do come to those who wait.

Tom Casey certainly did a lot of that during last weekend’s Discovery Bay Salmon Derby. Eventually, he was rewarded handsomely for it.

The Sequim resident sweated out nearly the entire three days of fishing to claim the top prize after bringing his 18.85 chinook to the docks at 9:40 a.m. on the opening day of fishing last Saturday.

It was the second fish entered into the ladder, and 100 more entries later, it was also the biggest.

A total of 808 tickets were sold for the Presidents Day weekend event, which is only two less than the 2008 derby (believed to be the largest in its 33-year history).

Here are a few other interesting tidbits:

• Of the 102 fish entered into the ladder, 51 came out of Area 9, 50 out of Area 6 and one out of Area 7.

• Most of the larger fish came out of Area 9, which had 12 weighing more than 12 pounds and the top four fish in the ladder. Area 6 had seven topping 12 pounds.

• Casey became the second Peninsula resident to claim the top prize since the derby was reinstated in 2007.

Port Townsend’s Jack Gourlie won the 2007 event with an 18-pound, seven-ounce fish. John Goldingay of Driftwood Key (near Kingston) won the 2008 event with the largest fish of the last three years: 19.4 pounds.

• The top locals prize goes to Port Townsend, which had 11 residents enter fish into the ladder. Next best was Sequim with 10, Port Angeles with seven and Chimacum and Gardiner with one apiece. Beaver came up empty.

And if the residents of Beaver think I’m calling them out with that little bit of information, you’re damn skippy.

Ski classes

Potential skiers or snowboarders suffering from severe fear of commitment issues, the one-day stand you’ve been pining for has arrived.

The Hurricane Ridge Winter Sport Club Ski School will be offering one-day ski and snowboard classes on successive Saturdays on Feb. 27, March 7 and March 14.

Classes will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. The cost is $50 per person each day and includes an all-day lift ticket, two hours of group instruction and your choice of ski or snowboard rentals.

Spaces for a class can be purchased in advance at Angeles Electric, 524 E. First St. in Port Angeles. For more information, call 360-461-3633 or 360-461-1764

Ridge news

It’s time to start wondering out loud. Is Hurricane Ridge ever going to get another dumping of snow this winter?

Here we are closing in on the final week of February and the mountain still hasn’t received near enough powder to get the Poma lift up and running.

Considering there’s only a little more than a month left in the season, and the total accumulation has hovered around 52 inches for weeks, there seems to be reason for concern. That being said, the intermediate and bunny rope tows are still in operation.

So skiing activities are available, just not the whole enchilada, unfortunately.

“At least we’re skiing,” mountain manager Craig Hofer said. “There’s been years when we haven’t.”

Single-day lift tickets cost $20 for the intermediate and bunny lifts, and $18 for a half day. All-day and half-day bunny lift tickets are $10.

Skis are available for rent at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Snowboards can be rented from North by Northwest Surf Co., 902 S. Lincoln St. in Port Angeles.

Snowshoeing, tubing and sledding (weather permitting) and cross country skiing are also available at the Ridge.

Free ranger-led snowshoe hikes, lasting about 90 minutes, are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Since space is limited, participants are encouraged to register at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center information desk 30 minutes beforehand.

Hurricane Ridge Road is open today through Sunday, weather permitting, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

All drivers are required to have tire chains on their tires or in their cars. Always check road and weather conditions before your trip by calling the park’s 24-hour road conditions hot line at 360-565-3131.

Information on weather conditions at the Ridge is also available at www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/hurricane-ridge-current-conditions.htm.

Salmon meeting

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will present its initial salmon forecast and proposed fishing seasons at a public meeting in Olympia on March 3.

The forecasts, compiled by state and tribal biologists, of the 2009 returns will be discussed during the meeting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the General Administration Building Auditorium at 11th Avenue and Columbia St. on the Capitol Campus.

Those in attendance will be able to talk to fishery managers and participate in work sessions focusing on key salmon management issues.

Public review of Fish and Wildlife’s pre-season salmon forecasts marks the start of the annual “North of Falcon” season-setting process.

Throughout March and early April, state, tribal and federal fisheries managers will meet to establish salmon seasons for Puget Sound, the Columbia River and the coast.

“Public input is an important part of this process,” said Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for Fish and Wildlife.

“I encourage people who have an interest in recreational and commercial salmon fisheries to get involved in these discussions and take part in the development of upcoming fishing seasons.”

The North of Falcon process is held in conjunction with public meetings conducted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), which establishes fishing seasons in ocean water three to 200 miles off the Pacific coast.

Final adoption of the 2009 salmon fisheries is scheduled for April 9 at the PFMC meeting in Millbrae, Calif.

More information about the North of Falcon process is available on Fish and Wildlife’s Web site at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fish/northfalcon/index.htm.

Also . . .

• Waters West Fly Fishing Outfitters will host a free fly-tying seminar at its shop in Port Angeles at 140 West Front St., on Saturday.

More seminars are scheduled for March 7 and 21. For more information, contact Waters West at 360-417-0937.

• Hunter education classes are coming to the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association, 112 Gun Club Road in Port Townsend, on March 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20 and 21. Classes are set from 6-9 p.m., with the exception of March 9, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. for registration.

The Saturday, March 21, session will be for field and firearm testing starting at 10 a.m. Registration is available at Swain’s Outdoors (360-385-1313) in Port Townsend and Hadlock Building Supply Rental (360-344-3443).

• Admiralty Audubon’s Ken Wilson will lead an all-day birding field trip to Skagit Flats and Samish Delta this Saturday.

Birders should expect flocks of snow geese as well as raptors and swans. For more information, including to arrange a car pool, contact Wilson at 360-821-1101.

• Dungeness River Audubon Center, 2151 West Hendrickson Road in Sequim, will host a six-week introductory birding course from March 2 through April 6.

Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. each Monday. The cost is $40 for River Center partners and $60 for non-members. To register, contact the River Center at 360-681-4076.

• Washington Trails Association will gather an all-day volunteer work party at Elbow Creek Trail in the Hood Canal Ranger District next Thursday.

Volunteers will meet at the Quilcene Ranger Station at 8:30 a.m. Volunteers must pre-register 48 hours in advance. To pre-register, contact Washington Trails at 206-625-1367 or visit www.wta.org.

• As was mentioned in Thursday’s outdoors column, Olympic National Park’s Kalaloch Beach will once again not be included in a set of razor clam digs this March and April on the coast.

Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks will open to morning digging the weekend of March 27-29 and April 10-12, pending marine toxin tests.

• The recreational clamming season at Dosewallips State Park will open a month early on March 1 this year. The season is scheduled to run through Oct. 31.

Call us, photos welcome!

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, 417-3521; e-mail [email protected]

__________

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

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