OLYMPIA – State fisheries managers say salmon anglers can expect a banner summer fishing season this year, thanks to strong returns of chinook salmon that have already revitalized spring fisheries from the Pacific coast to the Idaho border.
"If you want to catch chinook salmon, this is clearly the year to do it," said Tony Floor, recreational fishing coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "The ocean is churning with chinook right now, and they're getting bigger by the day."
A majority of those fish are bound for the Columbia River, where WDFW has forecast a run of 755,000 fall chinook salmon – the second largest return since 1948.
Already this year, coastal anglers caught more than 19,000 chinook salmon – most Columbia-bound – in chinook-only fisheries that closed June 16. Rare, early-run fisheries were also conducted on the Icicle, Yakima and Snake rivers, and WDFW today announced a previously unscheduled fishery for hatchery chinook salmon below Bonneville Dam to begin June 28.
In marine waters, summer salmon fisheries will get under way June 30 in Westport (Marine Area 2) and the Tulalip Bay terminal area, followed July 1 by openings in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands, Hood Canal and a number of other areas of Puget Sound. Other coastal areas, from Neah Bay to Ilwaco, will open July 7, with various restrictions discussed below.
All fisheries are consistent with recovery goals established for depressed salmon populations, and several areas have special rules designed to preserve protected stocks, said Tim Flint, WDFW statewide salmon manager. "As always, anglers should familiarize themselves with current regulations before they head for the fishing grounds."
Fishing regulations are outlined in WDFW's Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet, which is posted on WDFW's website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/). Anglers can also check for in-season updates to fishing rules on that site or by calling the WDFW Fishing Hotline at (360) 902-2500.
Below is a quick overview of the summer's major recreational salmon fisheries, from northern Puget Sound to the Columbia River.
"Chinook salmon bound for the Columbia River will dominate the coastal salmon fishery this summer," said Mark Cedergreen, executive director of the Westport Charterboat Association. "We're expecting one of the best years of salmon fishing here since the 1980s."
Catch rates during the early chinook-only season support that optimism. After three weeks of fishing, anglers caught 19,437 salmon of a 20,000-fish harvest guideline established for the early fishery. Most anglers fishing out of Westport and Ilwaco caught their limit of two chinook salmon, according to WDFW catch reports.
While WDFW expects only an average return of coho salmon after a near record run last year, chinook salmon have clearly benefitted from favorable freshwater and ocean conditions, said Doug Milward, WDFW ocean salmon manager.
"Chinook are a little tougher to catch than coho, but we still expect to see a lot of salmon limits out there this year," Milward said.
Coastwide, the harvest guidelines during the summer season are 47,400 chinook salmon and 109,530 hatchery coho, with individual guidelines established for each of the four coastal fishing areas. As in recent years, only those coho with a missing adipose fin – clipped at hatcheries for purposes of identification – may be retained in ocean fishing areas.
Westport (Marine Area 2) will open June 30 on a Sunday-through-Thursday schedule. The Ilwaco (Marine Area 1) fishery will get under way on the same five-days-per-week schedule on July 7, when LaPush (Marine Area 3) and Neah Bay (Marine Area 4) open for salmon fishing seven days per week.
The daily limit in all four areas is two salmon. Anglers must release any coho they catch that do not have a clipped adipose fin, identifying them as hatchery fish.
Anglers should be sure to check the Fishing in Washington rule pamphlet for special rules in each area.
Chinook salmon fishing has been good throughout the spring in rivers on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, and is expected to continue that way throughout the summer on the Hoh River, said Bill Freymond, WDFW salmon biologist. However, catch rates are expected to decline substantially on the Quillayute River system – which includes the Sol Duc and Bogachiel rivers – after July 1, when anglers will be required to release any wild (unmarked) chinook or coho salmon they catch.
"Catch rates on the Hoh continue to exceed expectations," said Freymond, noting that the fishery will remain open Wednesday through Sunday with a bag limit of one salmon per day through Aug. 31. He also expects a "robust return" of fall chinook salmon in all north coast rivers beginning around Sept. 1, when the bag limit increases to two adult salmon per day.
Strait of Juan de Fuca
For those who want to catch a really big chinook salmon, a good bet is the Sekiu area (Marine Area 5) in July, said Dick Geist, WDFW fisheries manager for Puget Sound. "We've seen a fair number of chinook weighing upwards of 40 pounds caught out of Sekiu at that time of year," he said.
Geist foresees a "fairly decent" salmon fishery this year, although chinook fishing in the Sekiu area (Marine Area 5) will be limited by a 2,000-fish quota.
The entire Strait of Juan de Fuca, from Sekiu to Admiralty Inlet, opens for salmon fishing July 1, but anglers cannot retain chinook salmon until July 8 – and then only in Area 5. Throughout the season, anglers are required to release all chum salmon and – as on the coast – any coho salmon with an intact adipose fin.
While the heaviest concentrations of fish – and fishers – is expected to be on the Washington coast this summer, anglers will also have a number of salmon-fishing options throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
The Tulalip Bay terminal area fishery, just north of Everett, opens June 30 through the end of September on a weekly schedule of Friday through noon Monday. There is a two-fish daily limit; and chinook must be at least 22 inches.
Anticipated strong returns to the Duwamish-Green River system means anglers will have an opportunity to catch chinook salmon in inner Elliott Bay from July 12 to Aug. 18 on a Friday-through-Sunday schedule. Chinook must measure at least 22 inches, and all chum salmon must be released. The inner Elliott Bay area lies east of a line between Duwamish Head and Pier 91.
Several other areas opening July 1 also offer anglers an opportunity to catch chinook salmon and other species, including:
- Marine Area 7 (San Juan Islands) with a two-fish daily limit. Anglers can keep one chinook, which must measure at least 22 inches.
- Marine Area 11 (Tacoma) with a two-fish daily limit.
- The portion of Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) south of Ayock Point with a four-fish daily limit, of which only two can be chinook salmon.
Marine Area 13 (south Puget Sound) is currently open for chinook and other species, and anglers are already finding some success in the Wolloclet Bay and Anderson Island areas. After July 1, anglers must release any wild (unclipped) coho they catch.
In several other areas of Puget Sound opening within the next few weeks, anglers can catch and retain some salmon species but must release any chinook they catch. These include: Marine Area 9 (from Port Townsend to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry crossing), which opens July 1 with a two-fish daily limit. All chinook and chum salmon must be released. Marine Area 10 (from the Edmonds-Kingston ferry crossing to the northern tip of Vashon Island), which opens July 1 with a two-fish daily limit. All chinook must be released, except in Sinclair Inlet, where they may be retained beginning July 1. Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2 (Skagit Bay and the Everett area), which opens Aug. 1 with a two fish daily limit. All chinook must be released.
Anglers should consult the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for additional regulations and information.
"We've tried to provide fishing opportunities where we can, without jeopardizing the recovery of depressed chinook and summer chum populations," Geist said. "That has to be our top priority, and this year's return should help in that effort."
While large numbers of Columbia-bound fall chinook salmon are already feeding off the Washington coast, those fish are not expected to enter the mouth of the Columbia River until late summer. On Aug. 1, fishing on those stocks will open along a 100-mile stretch of the lower Columbia from Buoy 10 at the river mouth upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge and on many of the river's tributaries.
The anticipated size of the return is just one reason for excitement, said WDFW's Tony Floor. Another is that half the run is expected to be composed of "tules," the lower Columbia hatchery fish that are known for their strong performance on the line.
"Tules bite and perform on the end of a fishing line like no other chinook," Floor said.
For Columbia River anglers who just can't wait for that experience, WDFW in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife today announced the opening of a section of the Columbia below Bonneville Dam starting June 28 that targets an earlier-running population of summer chinook.
The fishery is scheduled to run through July 31 from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line upstream to Bonneville Dam. There is a six-salmon daily limit, with a minimum size of 12 inches, but no more than two adult fish. Retained chinook must have a missing adipose fin and a healed scar in its place to indicate it is a hatchery fish. All sockeye and chum salmon must be released unharmed.
The summer chinook run originates in the upper Columbia River and the Snake River, and is composed of both hatchery and wild stocks. The wild Snake River component is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"It is essential to our Snake River chinook rebuilding efforts that anglers stay within daily catch limits and carefully release all chinook with an adipose fin," Flint said. He noted that there is a maximum 1 percent allowable impact to ESA-listed Snake River summer chinook during this fishery.
"The fishery will have to be closed early, if necessary, to stay within this extremely low allowable impact," he said.