The rumblings about the upcoming summer salmon fisheries started way back in winter before any fishing lines or nets had even hit the water.
During the holiday shopping rush, state fisheries released preliminary forecasts showing Columbia River chinook returns could rival those dating back to 1938.
“That huge return of chinook not seen in more than 70 years should elevate the excitement level very high this summer,” Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association, said of a landmark return of nearly 3 million Columbia River chinook and coho.
“This should definitely be the cornerstone of any saltwater fishing activity in Washington,” said Floor.
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Not soon after the fishing seasons were set in April, the commercial coastal chinook troll fisheries in May jettisoned into high gear. Success skyrocketed at Neah Bay and Ilwaco leading to catch reductions and brief in-season closures.
Some troll boats at Ilwaco were coming back with 300- to 400-plus chinook near the end of May, and the averaged dressed weight was a plump 12 to 15 pounds.
Ocean sport anglers got their chance when the hatchery-marked selective king fishery opened May 31, and the first two days produced catches of 0.88 fish per rod at Ilwaco, and 0.55 at Westport. Better news was that the hatchery-mark rate was a stunning 80 percent.
Selective fishing is where anglers catch only those salmon with a missing adipose fin, indicating they are of hatchery origin, while releasing wild fish.
The ocean salmon fishing seasons could very well go down as some of the best seen in a long time.
“We’ve got close to twice the chinook abundance as last year, and that’s going to make a big difference,” Doug Milward, the state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager said of returns that’ll resemble those seen dating back to the all-time recent peak in 1977. “It will absolutely be one of the most significant seen in years, and there will be no better place to be than the coast.”
The Columbia River fall chinook forecast of more than 1.6 million is the largest fall return since at least 1938. The Columbia coho forecast is 1.2 million coho, and could rival the 2009 coho season when about 1.05 million returned.
The coast-wide sport catch quota for hatchery coho will be 184,800 (75,600 last year), and 59,100 chinook (51,500 last year).
The ocean salmon fishery for chinook and hatchery coho opened Saturday at Ilwaco and Westport, and is open through Sept. 30. La Push is open daily until Sept. 21 and Sept. 27-Oct. 12. Neah Bay is open daily through Sept. 21.
The late summer Buoy-10 chinook fishery at the Columbia River mouth always generates plenty of attention.
The inner-marine waterways should be equally productive, and a good gauge has been the fairly good catches of hatchery-marked chinook in the Tacoma area, which opened June 1.
This fishery mainly off Tacoma has ranked in the top three catch areas the past two decades. The hatchery mark rate is about 70 percent.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu to Port Angeles opens July 1 for hatchery chinook and coho. This fishery has been fairly consistent the past few years, and should repeat itself this summer.
Salmon anglers will get a bonus two sockeye in the daily catch limits at Sekiu, Port Angeles and San Juan Islands during summer fisheries through Aug. 31, taking advantage of the 23 to 72 million sockeye expected back to the Fraser River in southern British Columbia.
In northern and central Puget Sound, the hatchery-marked selective chinook fishery conceived in 2007 has grown in popularity, and is open July 16-Aug. 31. The biggest change will be one hatchery chinook daily, compared to the two fish in past seasons.
The San Juan Islands open for chinook July 1, and the challenge in fishing the island chain is the diverse geography, and knowing where the fish hang out.
Shore-bound anglers in Puget Sound can also find willing salmon by casting jigs off the piers at Edmonds, Seacrest at West Seattle and at Terminal 86 in Elliott Bay.