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Cautious Optimism Buoys Salmon Season

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 29, 2006

Signs look good, but anglers remember last year

Predicting the outlook of salmon fishing seasons is like casting a lure into a paper cup at 100 yards. The salmon do get busy over the next four days on the ocean and inside waters, and anglers are scratching their heads and wondering after last year.

The signals are mixed, as they usually are. Ocean seasons last summer were not good overall, but strong runs of summer chinook in the Columbia, Skagit and Skykomish rivers this year are providing some optimism. In addition, ocean conditions appear favorable this year, with properly cool water temperatures -- last year they were unusually warm -- and indications of abundant forage fish that salmon eat.

"People are hungry to go salmon fishing," says Mark Cedargreen, president of the Westport Charterboat Association. "This year when the commercial troll fishery opened (in May) there were not a lot of fish around. But conditions are very good, there's bait and feed, there's cold water. I'm presuming sometime after the season starts we'll run into some salmon and it will be decent."

Conditions are the same up north. Randy Lato of All-Ways Fishing in La Push saw good baitfish signs last week while heading to halibut fishing grounds, but last year's tough season is fresh in his mind.

"I'm not real sure," he said. "Last year we had water at 60-plus degrees. We had to fish deep. Saturday there was quite a bit of sign right past the Rockpile, four miles straight out; birds for a solid mile. It was looking good there. I think the water was 55.9 (degrees). I hope we can find some fish."

The only thing that can be said for sure, other than that the two best times to fish are when it's raining and it's not, is that salmon anglers will have ample opportunity to get out. The ocean ports of Neah Bay and Ilwaco (catch areas 3 and 4) open Friday; the two southern ports of Westport and Ilwaco (areas 1 and 2) open Monday. On the inside waters, the Strait of Jan de Fuca (areas 5 and 6), the San Juan Islands (7), the Seattle/Bremerton area (10) and Hood Canal (12) all open Saturday.

Fishing has been slow on the inside areas already open, including south Puget Sound, the catch-and-release fishery in northern area 10 and the Tulalip "bubble" fishery north of Everett. The bubble did pick up a bit over the weekend, but chinook abundance appears low in the rest of the Sound. There were a few flurries of chinook action last week and into the weekend at Point Defiance, Point Dalco and a few spots along Vashon Island. But not like it should be.

"It's been terrible," said Art Tatchell at Point Defiance Park Boathouse.

However, the bubble did pick up, with some boats scoring multiple-fish days over the weekend. Catches have improved on the Edmonds fishing pier, and fishing for summer chinook in the Skagit and Sky has been better than any of the past few years, especially in the past week.

"I think people are a little more positive this year about salmon," said Bob Ferber at Holiday Market sporting goods in Burlington. "We had an unexpectedly good winter chinook season in the San Juans, along with the fact that the chinook fishery in the Skagit has been considerably better this year than last."

Down south, Oregon and Washington earlier this week upgraded the summer chinook run forecast on the Columbia to a number between 70,000 and 90,000, well above the original forecast of 49,000. Still, fishing in the river from Bonneville Dam downstream has been good enough to cause concern.

They'll met again today to consider closing sport fishing for chinook below Bonneville to make sure enough get upriver.

"Fishing has been good, maybe too good, and the fish have been large," said Joe Hymer, a biologist at the Vancouver Fish and Wildlife Department office.

Greg Johnston
Cautious Optimism Buoys Salmon Season
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 29, 2006

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