Floor: This Summer, It Will Rain Chinook

(ARTICLE COURTESY TONY FLOOR, FISHING AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NORTHWEST MARINE TRADE ASSOCIATION)

Do you recall a Saturday, about a week ago, when temperatures throughout Puget Sound skyrocketed up to around 65 degrees?

TONY FLOOR

The endless rains of this tough La Nina winter and spring finally stopped, long enough to burn an inch or two of moss off my back, wishing for a week or two of more sun.

But, by the following Monday, the rains returned and it was back to an epidemic of the blahs for Washingtonians, wanting to get outside and take in more of that yummy vitamin D.

Last month, I wrote about the conclusion of the 2011 salmon season setting process, and promised to offer my two cents about the outlook for this summer and fall. Here’s the news: get ready for more rain, because beginning in mid-June, it will start raining big chinook salmon, king salmon, during a summer built on high expectations.

PUT YOUR SLICKERS BACK ON, IT'S GONNA RAIN ... CHINOOK, SAYS TONY FLOOR. THIS ONE WAS CAUGHT OFF NEAH BAY, WASH., IN A PREVIOUS SEASON. (WRIGHT & McGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST

Some anglers might be quick to counter with the inaccuracies of forecasting salmon runs back to Washington, especially based on another dismal spring chinook return to the Columbia River during the last few months. Those doubters are correct, it was a bust, but remember this, history suggests that spring chinook salmon have become more difficult to predict as ocean survival rates have not been kind to these revered fish in recent years.

Fall chinook salmon are a different beast. Predictions of individual region and river returns have been pretty darn close to actual returns during the last few years. Now here is the meat on the bone: last year, 650,000 fall kings made their way back to the mouth of the Columbia River, offering some outstanding fishing for anglers investing their time from Westport south to the entrance to the River. This year, the forecast calls for an additional 100,000 chinook, establishing a modern day record of over 750,000 fish. Canada and Alaska have been quick to jump on this band wagon of this highly anticipated return of 2011 by ramping up their sport and commercial fisheries resulting in a significant bite out of our ocean season. Therefore, while our ocean sport fishing season may not, I repeat, may not be as lengthy as last year, the quality of king salmon fishing should be close to melt down. I like this kind of melt down. In summary, go early and go often.

All four ports (Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Ilwaco) will open for a hatchery-only chinook fishery on Saturday, June 18th through the following Saturday, June 25th. Remember, hatchery produced, adipose fin-clipped chinook only (2 per day) for one week, or earlier, if a quota of 4800 chinook are caught. The general opener begins on Sunday, June 26th, in all four ports and Westport will begin the season on a Sunday through Thursday schedule. If you take the time to do your historical chinook catching homework, Westport is the home of the coastal king salmon fishery every year. Yes, the fleet, both charter and private boats is larger than the other ports, in June and July, and there is an answer to the why question. The chinook salmon consistently perform, big time, off Westport from late June through the first half of July. Prime time, baby, and it will be a show.

Sure, king salmon fishing can and should be productive in Neah Bay and La Push too, but year in, year out, Westport will be the big daddy.

As this incredible school of this year’s king salmon move south, down our coast into later July and early August, Ilwaco will be on fire. Raining chinook! Oh my gosh, I hate it when that happens. This big return will turn the corner into the Columbia River in mid-August and it could be, if the numbers are accurate, the greatest sport king salmon fishery in recent memory. Don’t call, don’t write, as I intend to be busy with a XXL on the end of my string!

Following the closure of chinook salmon retention in the Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River on August 28th, I recommend following me up the road, about 30 miles to the north to Willapa Bay. Willapa has a good forecast of fall kings this year and prime time is always during the last week of August and the first week of September. I like to fish the area in the Bay, beginning at marker #2 and motor-mooch east, following the navigational marker line from #2 all the way to #26. The zone between marker #10 and #13 pays like the lottery immediately and during high water. Remember, it is critical to troll within one foot of the bottom. The bottom averages between 15 to 25 or 30 feet deep. Slam dunk and watch your rod tip bury into the water. That’s no trout, Vern.

The forecasts just released in mid-April also suggest a strong run of pink salmon to most Puget Sound rivers, to the tune of around six million fish. Six million pinks! Change your rain gear from boots to chest waders. Pink salmon, which are on two year age cycles return to Puget Sound in odd numbered years, as in 2011. They have been increasing in popularity from Sekiu in early August to strength in numbers in northern Puget Sound by the third week of August, and into the rivers of their destination. The pink salmon forecast to southern B.C.’s Fraser River is only 18 million. Giddy-up!

If you think this is starting to sound like a salmon tsunami, start breathing again, as here comes a strong forecast of Puget Sound coho, following the runs of chinook and pink salmon. Last year, the coho salmon run for Puget Sound was estimated at 600,000. Opps, here comes a million in this year’s crop. This outstanding return begins in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca around Sekiu in mid-August and peaks into northern Puget Sound by the third week of September. Coho salmon returns have been unimpressive in recent years and it’s great to see a rebound this year.

Why all the good news? La Nina, baby, paying dividends, salmon dividends with very good ocean environmental conditions, providing the right temperature triggering a healthy food chain, critically important to good survival rates and ultimate adult salmon returns to Washington.

Last month, KING-TV ran a story about La Nina contributing to the upcoming strong salmon season. Click here to view the short news story online.

Obviously, I am pumped about the salmon forecasts for this summer and early fall. I see it as a dividend, to living in the Pacific Northwest and surviving this unusually wet fall, winter and spring season.

And will high gas prices, keep anglers away? It may slow some anglers down but I believe it will not keep them away. History has proven… show me the fish, and I’ll show you people eager to go fishing.

Baby, it’s almost time to go fishing! Let the summer salmon bonanza begin. See you on the water.

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