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Salmon Season Redemption

by Tony Floor

There’s an old saying among Pacific Northwest salmon anglers that goes like this: People who don’t get skunked, don’t fish.

It’s the nature of the sport. Just because you put your worm in the water does not necessarily mean you’re going to get a bite, especially by a primo summertime mature Chinook or coho salmon.

Now that October is here, it makes some sense to look back at the thumbs up or thumbs down of our recent summer salmon fishing season.

The process goes back to at least March when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released its 2016 Chinook and coho salmon forecasts on a river by river basis. As you may recall, there were plenty of chuckholes for both species, especially coho salmon, as many of us attempted to lay out a battle plan for summer fishing trips.

First and foremost, the entire fishing season was at risk last spring due to a lack of agreement on the Chinook and coho harvest package between the state, tribes, and Feds (NOAA Fisheries). Finally, as the result of significant pushing and shoving in the political arena between the three groups, a sport fishing package was realized, thanks to the new WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. If it was up to NOAA Fisheries, we would all be golfing and bowling this past summer. Make you feel good about paying your federal income tax? Their support of Washington’s sport fishing industry was like looking for jackrabbits on Pluto. Get my drift?

Once fisheries began to open, slowly but surely during July and into August, I observed more disappointment than chest pumping. Sure, there were short-lived flashes of quality sport salmon fishing in all marine waters, but in the bigger picture, the summer of 2016 was disappointing, particularly for Chinook.

The granddaddy of our summer salmon fishing has become the great fishery at the mouth of the Columbia, as I have shared in this space for years. Washington and Oregon salmon managers heralded a Chinook salmon run of over 900,000 this year, the fourth largest run size since counting the passage of Chinook salmon over Bonneville Dam began in 1938. Anglers from all over the West licked their chops, only to be dealt chicken bones without the meat. The last stats I studied in mid/late August suggested one Chinook for every 10 anglers. And if that stat didn’t induce choking, try one coho salmon for every 20 anglers. Once again, bowling is an option.

SalmonPullquote_oct16So, what happened? Fundamentally, I refuse to stomp on the reputations of biologists who predict salmon survival rates. It is a very tough job working with inexact science. They consider all of the data in this challenging task and make an educated and scientific assumption of marine and freshwater survival. Clearly, the impact of the 2015-16 El Niño, along with the warm water “blob” parked in Pacific Northwest waters, created more havoc for juvenile Chinook and coho salmon attempting to survive these Pacific Ocean phenomena than scientists predicted. If you believed the biologists’ assessment earlier this year, we knew that coho would be coming home like survivors of the Civil War. But many of us did not foresee the same kind of results for Chinook salmon.

So where to now, Kemosabe? From this angler’s corner, I’m regrouping and anticipating fall fishing opportunities, which include a late run of kings, hopefully, on the west side of San Juan Island and the Hood Canal, which has a four-fish limit (two can be Chinook).

Or, think about a few days down at Tillamook through-out October as this region has a very late run of kings which I have been harassing the last week of September. This king salmon fishery is just getting started.

Grays Harbor is another good opportunity in October. Check the rules carefully as the area has been divided into two regions recently with different regulations.

Keep the faith, all you homie salmon fishing junkies. There are still plenty of options to get your worm in the water after a tough summer. I’m off for Grays Harbor and more Tillamook king salmon fishing in October as my smoker is belching the sweetness of apple wood chips doing its magic on fresh salmon. ‘Tis the season. See you on the water.

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