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Columbia Providing Surge of Chinook Action

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 16, 2008

The angling menu this weekend depends on your tastes. Spring chinook fishing on the Columbia River is terrific, halibut fishing in Puget Sound is off to a fine start and razor clam digging prospects are good on the south coast ocean beaches.

"Most of the talk is just buzzing about the Columbia," said Curt Kraemer, a retired state fish biologist from Marysville. "The guys who fish down there regularly and know that country have been doing really well."

Checks by the state last week indicated an average catch of better than a fish per boat, for those not fishing from shore. Including wild fish that were released, the per-person average among boaters was one adult chinook for every 2.5 rods -- the best catch rate for springers since at least 2000.

The Vancouver area from the Interstate 5 bridge upstream to the Interstate 205 bridge has been perhaps the top area, but anglers also are doing well in other spots, including the Camas-Washougal area and just downstream of Bonneville Dam.

Counts at the dam's fish ladders indicate a surge of upstream movement since late last week, which means the fishery above Bonneville at Wind River and Drano Lake should improve directly. Of the lower Columbia tributaries, the Cowlitz has been the best lately, but the Lewis and Kalama also are kicking out a few springers.

The states of Oregon and Washington were scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to review catches, and because of the high catch rates, it is likely that the main Columbia could close soon as anglers near their allowed impact level on upriver wild stocks. For updates, see the Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site at

On the salt water, the angling focus has shifted from chinook to halibut with the midmonth closure of most areas to salmon fishing and last week's halibut opener on most of the inland waters. Despite strong, less-than-ideal tides last weekend and sometimes stormy seas, the halibut season is starting well, with good catches on many of the offshore banks in the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off the San Juan Islands.

"The tides were less than favorable, but there were still plenty of fish caught," said Mike Chamberlain at Ted's Sports Center in Lynnwood. "Everybody has been real enthusiastic and pumped up."

Tides are now flattening out, which should make for better bottom-fishing conditions this weekend, if winds don't kick up. The Port Angeles area has produced the best catches, especially during Saturday's fine weather. A state check at Ediz Hook showed 136 anglers in 64 boats with 41 halibut.

To the east Hein, Middle and Partridge banks have all produced decent halibut fishing, and quite a few have been taken also off the west shore of Whidbey Island, at Keystone, the Bombing Range and Mutiny Bay. One halibut landed at Everett pulled the scales down more than 130 pounds, and many fish in the 40- to 70-pound range have been reported.

"We had a customer come in who said he was trying to get to Hein Bank, but it was too windy, so he fished off Burrows Island and got a 64-pounder," said Bob Ferber at Holiday Market sports in Burlington. "We had another customer who did pretty well. In three days he caught five that went from 18 to 51 pounds, at Partridge Bank and Keystone."

As for saltwater salmon fishing, catch areas 8-1 and 8-2 in the Everett area and north along Saratoga Passage remain open to fishing for hatchery chinook through April. Fishing there has not been great, but a few blackmouth are being taken at spots such as the Race Track north of Hat Island, the shoreline north of Langley and the Elger Bay area.

The only potential hang-up on the razor clam digs would be a marine forecast for 13-foot swells Saturday, moderating to 8 feet Sunday. That could make things tough Saturday, because in strong surf the clams often don't show well. Beyond that, prospects are good on all four beaches that will be open. Digs earlier this month on the Long Beach and Twin Harbors beaches show the clams are in great shape.

"On the Copalis and Mockrocks beaches, I don't think the clams are going to be quite as big, because we have a greater age variation there, with a lot of younger clams, but (overall) the clams are in good shape," said Dan Ayers, state coastal shellfish biologist.

All four ocean beaches will be open Saturday and Sunday, and the Twin Harbors beaches will remain open Monday through Wednesday.

Be aware of potential traffic delays going to the north beaches through Hoquiam, where bridge work has created a detour on U.S. Highway 101 through town. You might want to give yourself a bit of extra time to reach the beaches.

Here are the low tide levels, times and open beaches: Saturday, minus-0.1 feet at 6:40 a.m., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mockrocks; Sunday, minus-0.4 feet at 7:18 a.m., Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mockrocks; Monday, minus-0.6 feet at 7:55 a.m., Twin Harbors only; Tuesday, minus-0.6 feet at 8:30 a.m., Twin Harbors only; and Wednesday, minus-0.5 feet at 9:06 a.m., Twin Harbors only.

Greg Johnston
Columbia Providing Surge of Chinook Action
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 16, 2008

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