Salmon anglers looking toward what summer and early-fall options are available should be able to dial-in on some pretty good action as long as they’re willing to put some wheels – and a trailer – under their boat to get to best fishing grounds.
You can either sit and stew over why your favorite marine area didn’t get a longer season and is downright closed or simply make the choice to head where the fishing is good.
And there are going to be plenty of choices in the months ahead.
“I’ve learned to pay attention to the foundation of my fishing strategy, which is based on the salmon forecasts,” Tony Floor, the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s director of fishing affairs and longtime salmon sport-fishing advocate said. “In other words if it is poor in Puget Sound then I’m not going to spend a great amount of time there, and will look to where the best opportunities are like the ocean this summer.”
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The main finger pointing for these lost opportunities can be put on Mother Nature as a result of El Nino-like conditions in 2015 and 2016 fostered by the “Blob” – a detrimental warm-water condition – which situated itself off the northern Pacific Coast within that time frame.
A wise salmon angler will want to spend most of their summer time if chinook and hatchery coho are their game along the coast from Neah Bay south to mouth of the Columbia River off Ilwaco.
The basis for making this choice is salmon returns are much better than last season if the forecasts come back as predicted.
The backbone for ocean fisheries will be a Columbia River fall chinook forecast of 582,600 (951,300 was forecast last year with an actual return of 643,300). The total return is similar to last year, which was the fourth largest on record, but substantially down from the huge returns from 2013 to 2015.
The lower river hatchery chinook stock of 92,400 and Bonneville Pool hatchery chinook stock of 158,400 – better known as “tule chinook” – are the most prized sport fish and a driving force in ocean fisheries off Ilwaco, Westport and at Buoy 10 near the Columbia River mouth.
The tule are a lower river hatchery run, which is close to recent five-year average, and Bonneville Pool hatchery run that looks to be the second highest return since 2004.
The all-time actual return record dating to 1938 was 1,268,400 adult chinook in 2013, which was 227 percent of the 2003-to-2012 average of 557,600 adult fish. In 2014, the actual return was 1,159,000, which was second-highest on record.
On the table this summer is a sport chinook catch quota of 45,000 fish, which is 10,000 more fish than 2016’s quota of 35,000 chinook. A quota of 42,000 hatchery-marked coho for this season’s sport fishery is about 23,100 more fish than last year’s quota of 18,900 coho.
A good idea to see what’s already happening off the coast is the commercial salmon troll fishery that began this month.
“The troll fishery is going quite well right now especially off Westport,” said Wendy Beeghly, the state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon manager. “It looks like a normal May fishery when they’re there one moment and gone the next. But, when the bite is on they are showing up in pretty good numbers. So that hopefully bodes well for the (summer) recreational fishery as well.”
Ilwaco, La Push and Neah Bay will open for salmon fishing on June 24, and Westport will open on July 1. Fishing will remain open daily at all four coastal ports through Sept. 4 or until quotas are caught, whichever comes first.
The daily limit at Neah Bay and La Push is two salmon of either chinook or hatchery-marked coho. The daily limit at Westport and Ilwaco is two salmon, but only one may be a chinook.
The Neah Bay sport quota is 4,370 hatchery-marked coho and 7,900 chinook. At La Push the sport quota is 1,090 hatchery-marked coho and 2,500 chinook.
At Westport the sport quota is 15,540 hatchery-marked coho and 21,400 chinook. At Ilwaco the sport quota is 21,000 hatchery-marked coho and 13,200 chinook.
One of the more premier king fisheries occurs along the 30-foot line just outside the surf in the ocean off Long Beach with most anglers coming out of the Port of Ilwaco. It is an easy fishery as long as you watch the weather forecast and bar conditions with anglers simply letting out 13 to 15 pulls of line (two feet per pull) with a diver and a herring.
Timing is key off the beach at Long Beach (best time is August) and it doesn’t matter on the tide or time of day as long as the fish are present. On the surf line you’ll see huge schools of anchovy baitfish.
Staying on the theme of the ocean salmon fisheries just up the coast line is Westport, La Push and Neah Bay. Summer catches were modest at all ports last summer with an average at Westport of 0.81 chinook per rod average during the first week of August;0.49 at Neah Bay; 0.10 at La Push; and 0.56 at Ilwaco. Catches can also be good early-on in July if the fish are present and judging by the May troll fishery some fish are already present.
At La Push and Neah Bay there is not a year that goes by when an angler can soak in the spectacular scenery and have a fair chance of hooking a king salmon. It might not be easy limits of fish, but it can be about as good a place to fish as anyone can imagine.
Mid-July is the prime time to be at Neah Bay, and is the main highway intersection as kings and other salmon species turn into the Strait of Juan de Fuca or head south down the coast.
By far the top-choice for late summer and early fall salmon fishing will be happening at Buoy-10 on the mouth of the Columbia River.
The Buoy-10 salmon fisheries will closely mirror last year, and opens Aug. 1, and look for the action to peak by the middle of August although some years the fish have shown up much earlier.
Time in and time out dating back to the late 1980s it is always really good that third week of August, and anglers should plan on spending a lot of time on the water. While the fishery is commonly known as the “Buoy 10 fishery” the action has shifted to places higher upstream like the Astoria-Megler Bridge on both sides of the bridge. The Desdemona Sands (a flat sandy bar which is exposed at low tides) is a place that on a mid- to late-flood tide can be lights out fishing. And follow the buoy line on the Oregon side up and through the bridge, which has also become a very popular area.
In the early morning on a flood tide, anglers will first stop along the Wing Walls – located outside of the Port of Ilwaco – and just follow the nasty smell of the bird droppings and you’re in the right spot.
Anglers should also target the “June Hog” king salmon fishery on the Columbia mainstem from the Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge, which will be open from June 16 through July 31. In this fishery anglers will also incidentally catch sockeye salmon bound for the upper river stretches.
Anglers could be blushing over pinks
A Puget Sound pink forecast is expected to fall well short of past years, but depending how you look at when 1,150,522 fish start moving into the Strait and eventually the inner-marine waterways.
Sure, it is nowhere near the more than 6.7-million pink salmon (6.2-million in 2013) that were forecasted in 2015 and 6.2-million in 2013, but no matter how you slice and dice it, a million-plus extra fish in Puget Sound is definitely a nice shot in the arm of summer fisheries.
The dramatic dip can be blamed on the 2015 summer season when returning pinks found drought-like conditions and elevated water temperatures in rivers. That led to many dying before even having a chance to spawn. Pinks return during odd-numbered years, and in the past have allowed for a bonus catch limit in marine and some river areas. Unfortunately no extra bonus limit will occur this summer, but when the fish are migrating in thick schools it can be some added fun to catch.
The Nisqually River pink forecast calls for 21,463 (down considerably from 979,298 in 2015 and 764,000 in 2013. With that said it is hard to fathom that a forecast didn’t even exist in this river system back in 2011.
Other pink forecasts include the Puyallup river system, 382,301 (837,967 in 2015 and 1.24-million in 2013); Green, which spills out into Elliott Bay, 118,689 (626,102 and 1.3-million); Skagit, 85,600 (603,385 and 1.23-million); Snohomish, 171,632 (1.6-million and 988,621); Nooksack, 96,218 (281,979 and 154,075); and Stillaguamish, 40,205 (210,062 and 409,700). The Hood Canal forecast this summer is 229,440.
The height of the pink fishery usually occurs at the end of July through August. In the past this has been an excellent fishery as pinks tend to hug the marine shoreline making them easily accessible to Puget Sound bank anglers as well.
Anglers in British Columbia on the Fraser River might be blushing if a pink forecast of 8,693,000 returns compared to more than 14.4-million pinks in 2015 and 8.9-million in 2013. Add to that another 4,432,000 sockeye to the Fraser as well. These fish could be easy game for anglers fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the U.S. side of the border as they intermingle with local stocks.
Word on Strait salmon
Anglers would be wise to make plans now to head into the Strait of Juan de Fuca from July 1 through Aug. 15 when the hatchery king salmon fishery ramps up between Sekiu and Pillar Point, and Freshwater Bay to Port Angeles.
In past summer seasons the king fishery has been inconsistent, but if the baitfish are holding there so will salmon that are on a migratory highway path to Puget Sound. Those heading to Port Angeles have been keeping quiet the past few years where fishing has been stellar at times and angler pressure low.
Sekiu in the western Strait will remain open from Aug. 16-31 for a fishery that targets mainly pinks and hatchery-marked coho.
While there won’t be a bonus catch limit for pinks, anglers in the eastern Strait can keep two additional sockeye salmon in a daily limit. The problem is you’ll need to figure out how to catch them as they’ve been rather tricky to get to bite. Commercial trollers in the ocean have success using bare red hooks or small hootchie rigs has been the new “go to” way when fishing in places like Baker Lake.
Look for Puget Sound to offer some glory moments
When moving into the inner-waterways of Puget Sound and San Juan Islands the king fishery takes on a totally different look.
On the chinook front, the Puget Sound outlook shows an uptrend in the forecast of 193,962 (166,235 are hatchery and 27,727 are wild) compared to 165,150 forecasted last summer.
“The 2017 chinook forecast is a mixed bag for Puget Sound, and most Puget Sound wild stocks had decent returns (last year) based on the 10-year average,” Aaron Dufault, a state Fish and Wildlife said at the March salmon forecast meeting. “We are in a slightly better situation (for hatchery returns) than the 2016 forecast.”
The bulk of the chinook forecast originate from southern Puget Sound where 80,400 hatchery and 4,700 wild fish are expected to come back this season that includes 8,219 in Carr Inlet, 18,341 in Deschutes, 22,669 in Nisqually and 1,229 in Chambers.
The northern Puget Sound chinook forecast is 53,209 with a slight improvement on Stillaguamish of 1,500 (500 last year); Snohomish is 8,200 (8,300); Skagit is 16,200 (15,500); Nooksack is 21,200 (27,900); and Tulalip is 5,300 (1,400).
While the San Juan Islands is a major highway for kings going to British Columbia or south into Puget Sound it has been relatively lackluster, but can deliver good times during the summer.
In northern Puget Sound, the first half of July is now closed – in past seasons it was open for hatchery-marked resident coho – but open for hatchery-marked kings July 16 through Aug. 15.
A slight bump in the North Sound hatchery chinook catch quota of 5,599 compared to 3,056 in 2016 should allow for it to last somewhat longer. Same goes for Central Sound with a 2,166 catch quota compared to 1,395 in 2016.
Northern Puget Sound will revert to pinks and hatchery-marked coho only from Aug. 16 through Sept. 4, and central Puget Sound will be open through Oct. 31, and could be a decent place to catch hatchery coho when they return in mid-September through October.
Look for thousands of anglers to turnout when inner-Elliott Bay opens for a three-day king fishery on Aug. 11-13. This fishery will allow a chance at 16,362 chinook destined for the Green River (13,988 are of hatchery origin). The inner-bay will be open Fridays to Sundays only from Aug. 18-31 for hatchery coho and pinks only.
There will also be a terminal hatchery-marked chinook and coho fishery in Sinclair Inlet.
The only show on the east side of Whidbey Island is the Tulalip Bay terminal fishery, which is open May 26 to Sept. 4 with fishing allowed Fridays to Mondays only (closed on June 16). The terminal area will also reopen Sept. 9-30 on Saturdays and Sundays only.
In early- and late-summer look for hatchery king fishing to ramp up from the northern side of Vashon Island south to Tacoma when it opens on June 1.
During the south-central Puget Sound summer-season the legal chinook encounter rate is estimated to be 7,199 compared to 2,122 last year. This has a different scenario last season since it was closed in September, but will definitely have a larger encounter number.
Places like Southworth, Dolphin Point, Point Robinson, Three Tree Point, Brace Point, Colvos Passage, outside of Gig Harbor, south side of Vashon Island and Point Defiance Park in Tacoma from the Clay Banks east toward the Slag Pile are all good bets.
Look for some freshwater summer fishing time
Sockeye salmon anglers will be casting lines in the Skagit River during mid-June and eventually later in July as a Baker River sockeye forecast of 47,000 fish (55,054 last year) should provide some good times. The downside in the river fishery could be high water from all the glacial snow melt especially if we get an early hot summer.
Baker Lake will be open July 8 through Sept. 7 with the peak being late-July and early-August. The Skagit from Memorial Highway Bridge to Gilligan Creek will be open for sockeye from June 11 through July 15 (closed on June 28-29 July 6-7 and July 11 to avoid gear conflict with the tribal fishery).
There will also be an early summer hatchery king fishery on the Cascade and Skagit from Highway 530 Bridge at Rockport to Cascade Road Bridge from June 1 through July 15.
There will also be some chances to catch pinks and coho in the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Wallace, Skykomish, Puyallup, Carbon and Nisqually rivers. Anglers should check the regulation pamphlet on specific dates when fishing is allowed.
The Lake Washington forecast remains dismal with 77,292 compared to 119,125 last year and reflect since 2006 where runs have fallen well short of expectations. The current minimum goal of 350,000 is needed before any fisheries are considered, but state Fish and Wildlife and tribal fishery managers have indicated in the past it could be lowered to 200,000 if the run ever waxes expectations.
The Wenatchee River sockeye return of 54,200 could allow a sport fishery in Lake Wenatchee this coming summer if spawning escapement is achieved. The Okanogan River sockeye forecast is 137,000.