The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet are bursting at the seams with halibut.

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The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet are bursting at the seams with halibut.

And the chatter dockside isn’t just about their sheer numbers, but the average size appears to be larger.

Just ask Ryley Fee of Woodinville, who struck gold mining the halibut grounds for a second time in three years when he caught a 180-pounder.

Back in 2010, Fee landed a barn-door-sized halibut measuring 75 inches and weighing 225 pounds.

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“Lighting does strike twice,” said Fee, who was on an outing May 3 with friends in the Sno-King Puget Sound Anglers Club. “I can’t believe we got into another fish of this caliber.”

Under similar circumstances as a few years ago with the same fishing partners — Brian Fleming of Yarrow Point and Marv Fleming of Bellevue — aboard Brian’s 22-foot Arima boat, luck would be on their side after what started out to be a very slow day in eastern Strait.

At about 3:30 p.m. they decided move further out in the Strait. Right before they decided to call it quits at 4 p.m. something tugged on Fee’s large black-labeled-sized herring with a Red and Glow Silver Horde 8-inch hoochie skirt.

“It took 15 minutes to get in, and was the hardest-fighting fish I have ever landed, fighting much harder than the 225 I caught a few years ago,” Fee said. “We felt blessed because everyone else in our fishing group was getting blanked.”

That wasn’t the only big bottom-dwelling fish caught since opening day.

“There was reports of a 150-pounder and another 100-pounder,” said Larry Bennett, state Fish and Wildlife head creel checker in the Straight. “I saw a 74-pounder, and some in the 50-pound range. Overall the average size of fish was 14 to 25 pounds, which is a good size range.”

Kings cruising off coast

Many salmon anglers are wondering what to expect as the first fishery of the season opened Friday and Saturday off La Push and Neah Bay. Early signs show schools of chinook are milling off the coast as the nontribal commercial troll fishery, which opened May 1, has been catching fish when the weather allows them to get out of port.

“The troll fishery has been going OK but not fantastic, and the fish were definitely way out deep when it opened,” said Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager. “At first the fishing seemed kind of sluggish, and the water was really cold.”

In past years, most trollers out of Neah Bay initially head to a fishing ground about 35 miles offshore called “The Prairie.”

“One thing different to years past is the fish (are) smaller (8-pound range) than the usual average of 10 to 11 pounds,” Milward said. “The good news is market prices are good for troll-caught salmon.”

Troll boats were averaging 10 or 15 fish daily, and a few boats have done better.

So far, trollers have caught close to 2,000 chinook with a catch quota of 29,300 for May and June.

“Usually the third week of May things will start to pop, and they’ll start to find fish and get on them,” Milward said. “I would expect we’ll start seeing things pick up.”

Looking to the future, water conditions offshore appear to be excellent. That is good news for young salmon smolt migrating out of coastal rivers, and fisheries managers are hopeful it equates into higher survival rates.

The selective hatchery-marked chinook fishery at Neah Bay and La Push reopens Friday and Saturday.

The early summer hatchery chinook fishery will be open daily from June 8-22 off Ilwaco and Westport, and June 22-28 at La Push and Neah Bay. Last year, this early summer fishery surprised many and generated close to a chinook-per-rod average.

Full summer fishing seasons for chinook and hatchery-marked coho will open after the early season.

Word on spot shrimp

The fishery in Puget Sound and Hood Canal got off to a good start with many pulling up their limit of tasty, prized prawn-sized spot shrimp. “Catches were pretty good everywhere, and I would say it was similar to last year but more effort,” said Mark O’Toole, a state Fish and Wildlife shellfish manager.

Fisheries managers are crunching Puget Sound catches to determine what areas might have more days.

Hood Canal is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 15, 18 and 22. Discovery Bay is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 15, 18 and 22.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca east of Bonilla-Tatoosh line, and Sekiu, Port Angeles and South Puget Sound (excluding Discovery Bay) are open daily for spot shrimp, and will close when the quota is achieved or Sept. 15, whichever comes first. South Sound closes May 31.

San Juan Islands east and south regions are open May 15-18 and May 29-June 1. San Juan Island west region is open Wednesdays to Saturdays until June 1. After June 1 the area will be open Thursdays to Saturdays until the quota is achieved or Sept. 15, whichever comes first.