Local fishing experts and state fisheries managers say this past summer’s sport salmon fishery will likely go down as one of the most memorable.
“I’d have to give summer salmon fishing an A-rating, and we’re certainly prospering from where we stood five or six years ago,” said Steve Thiesfeld, the state Fish and Wildlife recreational salmon manager. “We often hear about the ‘good old days,’ and many years from now one could probably refer to this past summer in that context.”
The season started off fairly good during the early summer ocean hatchery chinook fishery off Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay in May and June, and had some glory moments clear into September.
“All in all it was another good ocean salmon year,” said Doug Milward, the state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager. “Depending on the day, it was kind of mixed results at Westport and Ilwaco, but Neah Bay and La Push did pretty well for coho and chinook.”
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The peak time of the early summer salmon fishery occurred June 17-23 with 2,648 anglers catching 2,697 hatchery kings for an average of 0.41 fish per rod. The best action happened off Ilwaco with 0.62 to 0.53 fish per rod from June 10-21.
The entire chinook sport catch in the summer ocean fisheries was 28,096 this past summer compared to about 35,000 in 2012. The much improved coho catch was 50,077, up from about 33,000 in 2012. The peak fishing was July 22-28 when anglers averaged 1.31 fish per rod.
Strait of Juan de Fuca
Chinook and coho fishing from Sekiu to Port Angeles was some of the best seen in a long time from the when it opened July 1 until Oct. 31.
“The Strait had a really solid year starting in July for hatchery chinook at Sekiu, and that area is usually a barometer of what to expect all summer once those fish move into Puget Sound,” Thiesfeld said. “There were also a lot of days at Port Angeles where the average was well over a chinook per boat, and some days it pushed up to a fish per person. Generally if it gets that high you need to drop everything and get out there.”
Coho numbers also jumped in the Strait at Sekiu, and Port Angeles anglers averaged nearly one coho or more per rod each day in October.
Northern and central Puget Sound opened July 16 for hatchery kings, and fishing was very productive right out of the starting gate, especially at places like Port Townsend.
Many anglers were scoring two-king daily limits off Midchannel Bank — an underwater plateau near Port Townsend — during the first week. Even when catches settled down, it remained decent through early August.
The good times carried on into summer as hatchery kings migrated off Point No Point, Possession Bar, Kingston, Edmonds and Jefferson Head.
By late August and through October, the Puget Sound coho forecast of 880,000 was streaming through local waterways.
“When you have a significant coho return they will show up earlier and later, and that just means more fish will hang around over a longer period of time,” said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle.
State Fish and Wildlife fish checks near the end of September at boat launches like Everett, Edmonds, Shilshole Bay and West Seattle showed catch averages pushing well over one coho per person.
One of the biggest shockers was a return of 179,203 sockeye (96,866 was the forecast) to Lake Washington, and while it didn’t support a summer fishery many are hopeful it will in the near future.
This was the second year in a row that the forecast was surpassed by actual in-season counts. A Lake Washington return of 145,815 in 2012 also shattered the preseason forecast of 45,871.
At least 350,000 are needed for spawning escapement in Lake Washington, and state and tribal fishery managers are now contemplating lowering it to 200,000. The last time Lake Washington was open for sport sockeye fishing was 2006 for 18 days with a return of 458,005 fish.
A Baker Lake sockeye forecast of 21,557 also produced some glory moments in a summer season that lasted from July 10 to Sept. 2.
“We never expected a big return this summer, but two years from now there will be much more excitement with a return that should knock your socks off,” said Brett Barkdull, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Barkdull said more than 800,000 sockeye smolt out-migrated and could have the potential of a run size of 100,000 if fish survival is good.
Other places that opened for summer sockeye were certain sections of the Lower and Upper Columbia River and Okanogan River, and Lake Wenatchee was open from Aug. 3-18.
A glimpse of 2014
“I know we’re just getting over what was a pretty good summer of fishing, but it’s difficult not to be talking about our high hopes for 2014,” said Pat Pattillo, the head state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator. “Anglers should really appreciate how much diversity we have in our fisheries.”
While it is too early to nail down specific fishing seasons, one of the first tell-tale signs are the preliminary Columbia River coho jack returns, which is close to three times larger than it was the year before. Jacks are mature salmon that return to rivers one or two years sooner than their counterparts and are used as a barometer of what comes back the next year.
The sockeye numbers are also going to be up, the summer chinook forecasts look as good as last season if not better, and the spring chinook forecast is double of what returned last season.
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