SEATTLE -- With the New Year here, it is time to take a look back and reflect salmon fishing season. I asked some local angling experts and fisheries managers to offer their grades on the season past.
"From the Columbia River to the ocean and from the Strait (of Juan de Fuca) into Puget Sound, it will go down as one of the better years we had," said Steve Thiesfeld, Puget Sound recreation salmon manager for state Fish and Wildlife. "We had a lot of opportunities in a lot of different places, and if a guy was willing to poke around a bit you could find good fishing all season."
Starting in Southwest Washington, the spring chinook forecast was high, but didn't live up to expectations as the season progressed.
"For spring chinook there was quite a bit of opportunity, but the actual run didn't come in as forecast," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "I would say it falls in the B-plus category for strong record spring chinook jack return." (Jacks are immature, precocious males that return after just one or two years in ocean.)
Grading the Columbia
A rundown of Hymer's other grades on Columbia River fish returns:
--Grade A: Summer steelhead fishing was off the charts and provided lots of opportunity, and that bonus extended all the way into the Upper Columbia. It greatly exceeded the forecast return and was close to a record run. For some stocks, it was a record run.
--A-minus: Sockeye provided a huge bonus opportunity, and the only downside was some fish mortality in the Wenatchee. The return was close to 200,000. The record came in 2008, when 214,500 returned, the largest number since 1959.
--A-minus: A large return of coho was forecast, didn't disappoint. They were big, and were a big contributor from Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth up to the Klickitat River and other tributaries.
--B-plus: Fall chinook for the most part came in as predicted, although the upriver bright chinook run was down, and that cut down the Hanford Reach fishery.
--B: There always are some nice big fish in the summer chinook run, and it was fairly strong. The forecast of 71,000 ended up about 55,000.
Ocean fishing hot
Nobody complained last summer about the ocean salmon fisheries.
"The huge bright spot in the ocean was coho, and I think just from availability and size of the fish I would give it an A grade," said Doug Milward, state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager.
"It started really slow in the first part of July, and then it just exploded all the way through the season.
"Chinook, on the other hand, gets a C grade."
In the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, Thiesfeld noted some glory moments for anglers, and some duds.
"You have to give an A-plus grade to the pink run, and there is no doubt that once the final numbers come in, it has potential for a record harvest and run size in many systems," Thiesfeld said. "When people are saying there was too many fish to catch, then you know it was an excellent fishery. I know that was the case from Sekiu clear into Area 11 (south-central Puget Sound)."
As for summer chinook, Thiesfeld said the fishery was quite good at Sekiu. But, were those Puget Sound fish stocks, or not?
"At this time, it appears it didn't translate into good chinook run sizes in Puget Sound," Thiesfeld said. "We know in some places we had low chinook returns, and I'd give the Areas 9 and 10 (northern and central Puget Sound) fisheries a C-minus.
"The one I might give a little bit more credit to is the Skagit River, and even though the fishing wasn't good, we still had a fishery in there for the first time in about 19 years. Overall it was a slow year for Puget Sound chinook."
Coho return early
Thiesfeld said he'd give the Puget Sound coho return a B-plus grade.
"The coho showed up earlier than they have in a number of years, and when they show up early they tend to bite better. And I also heard they were large in size, with some pushing 15 pounds or more. That was definitely a positive."
Thiesfeld said the early coho fishery at Sekiu in July and August also deserves high grades.
He said the early grade for Puget Sound and Hood Canal chum is a C.
"I haven't heard of anything spectacular and nobody crying the blues," Thiesfeld said. "In terms of the forecast and inseason run sizes, it's just average. In some places we just didn't see a lot of surplus for chums, but from the agencies' standpoint, we weren't expecting much anyway."
Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association who has spent a lifetime plying the waters of Washington, provided his insight.
"Starting on the southern coast, salmon fishing out of Ilwaco got hotter and hotter as the season progressed until the closure on Aug. 31," he said.
Floor said the real sleeper, in this region has been Freshwater Bay, immediately west Port Angeles. King fishing was so hot, the kelp beds were on fire.
"This is the second year in a row for tremendous fishing at Freshwater Bay and it will make my list of places to be in 2010, especially in early August," Floor said. "I give Freshwater Bay an A-plus."