The signals out in the ocean for the upcoming sport summer salmon fisheries are very encouraging.
One telltale sign is the early commercial troll chinook fishery, which opened May 1 with some very good results.
“The trollers were thumping the chinook during the first eight days of their fishery, and the boats were loading up,” said Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager.
In fact, the trollers were doing so well that state fisheries officials had to temporarily close it just eight days into the season as they neared the 9,150 chinook catch quota for May and June.
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“I have never in my life closed it down that quickly in the first part of May,” Milward said. “The fish are definitely out there, and we could be right on our (preseason) predictions.”
Once numbers were crunched, the first eight days actually produced about 6,500 chinook. That prompted fisheries managers to allow the troll fishery to be open four days per week, and each boat is capped at 50 fish. The third week of May is usually when the troll fishery catch really picks up.
“The trollers (off the northern coast at Neah Bay and La Push) are still coming in with their 50 fish cap limit pretty easily,” Milward said. “But around Westport it has been slow, although some boats were finally getting into fish. It doesn’t surprise me about Westport, because it always starts off that way.”
The majority of trolling boats out of Neah Bay were heading far off the coastline to an offshore fishing ground known as the “Prairie.”
The size of chinook started small, but by the time the early part was shutting down, they were averaging about 12 pounds.
“That is a really good size for chinook being caught right now,” Milward said. “It is that time of the year where they’re going into a good feeding pattern and getting out of the winter doldrums.”
Fishery managers are forecasting this summer’s ocean salmon fishing seasons could be one of the best in more than three decades.
This strong return is largely based on a surprisingly large Columbia River forecast that could be a landmark return of nearly 3 million chinook and coho.
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, and should rival the 2009 coho season when about 1.05 million returned.
The coastwide sport chinook catch quota is 59,100, which is an increase of 11,000 compared to last year. Add to that 184,800 coho, which is about 110,000 fish higher than last year’s quota.
There are two brief openings, Sunday and May 23-24, for hatchery-marked chinook off La Push and Neah Bay that will coincide with the halibut fishery, which is open Thursdays and Saturdays only.
The hatchery-marked chinook fishery at Neah Bay and La Push will be open daily from May 31 to June 13. The Westport and Ilwaco areas will be open daily for hatchery-marked chinook from May 31 to June 13. The early season could close sooner if the coastwide 9,000 fish-catch guideline is achieved. Daily limit is two salmon, and anglers must release coho and wild chinook.
All the coastal ports will then reopen daily for chinook and hatchery-marked coho starting June 14. Neah Bay will close Sept. 21, Ilwaco and Westport will close Sept. 30, and La Push closes Sept. 21, but reopens Sept. 27 through Oct. 12.
All ports could close sooner if catch quotas are achieved.