Monday, May 24, 2010

2010 Salmon season opening

The 2010 salmon season has begun. This is a favorite activity for many fishermen/gals on the southern oregon coast and it provides some of the most unforgettable fishing thrills to be had. The season runs until September. If we are lucky we will get another 4-10 days of fishing in October in what we call the 'Trophy Season'. By then the fish are fattened up and ready to head up the river to spawn and they are BIG. So we are now getting the boat and gear ready for salmon action.

Fishing the ocean in june-july can be challenging as the weather is variable and the ocean can get rough. It is common to have swells at 8-9 feet with wind waves at 3 ft, making for a bumpy ride and green passengers. Fighting and netting a fish under those conditions can be very challenging, and then there is the ride home at the end of the day. The ocean is often so rough the Coast Guard will not allow small boats (under 26 ft) to leave port. August and Sept are much nicer with light winds and larger fish. But Lynnette and I are not bothered with motion sickness and we will be out on the water if the c/g allows it. Any day with waves in the single digits is a good day for us.

It seems that salt water and boats are not made for each other. The salt gets into everything and corrodes all metal. Electrical wiring is especially vulnerable with the electrical potential on the wires making the corrosive power of the salt even more effective at creating trouble. All of the splices and connections have to be cleaned and many repaired each season. I have spent several days with my head in the bilges insuring that we will not have electrical problems at sea. Today the Down-riggers will get checked out, completing the electrical work.

Another hazard in the ocean is sea lions. These 400-800 lb critters love salmon and will eat several at a meal. They are about as smart as a dog, and the rascals will quickly learn which boats catch the more fish, and follow them. They also know that a salmon hooked up to a fisherman is far easier to catch than a free one, and that a bent rod and a landing net means---LUNCH. They can quickly cut a fish in half and do so right at the fish gill plate, leaving the head for the fisherman and the rest of the fish is their meal. Above is a pic of a 30+ lb salmon reduced to a couple of pounds of bone by a sea lion. In the last 9 years I have hooked up to 3 sea lions, with the lion getting hooked while stealing a fish, my bait and one even hit a bottom fishing jig. When you get a hook into one of those things it is pretty obvious you aren't gonna want to land the thing. Just break it off soon and hope you have enough line left to continue fishing for the day.

The southern pacific has a lot of warm water this year and we are hoping that some of it will come up our way bringing with it albacore and other warm water fish. A couple of years ago we had 62 degree water only 12 miles out of port. More typically it is at 30-40 miles in August-September. Albacore are the fastest fish in the pacific, having been clocked at 60+ MPH. They travel in schools usually with porpoise nearby, looking for bait fish. These fish cruise at 15-25 MPH all day long. We troll for them at about 10 knots with at least 4 lines in the water. The fish see the prop-wash of the boat followed by the lures and assume it is a school of bait fish. We commonly have 3-4 fish on, which is a pretty busy time for 2 fishermen. The fish are very fast and do not give up easily. My daughter/fishing partner has given me her fishing rod only 2 times in 30 years of fishing together. The last time was when she had an albacore on and was just too tired to land it. A good day fishing 'Albys' will wear out anyone. Above is a pic of an average alby;

So there are some good days ahead. Looking back on last years season there is one fish that stands out to me. I was fishing in the Chetco River estuary out of my electric powered kayak, trolling a 'plug cut ' herring for salmon. The boat is shown above. Most other boats were trolling with anchovies and were not doing well. The previous day I had brought home a 20+ lb fish and smoked it. Today I was looking for a big fish, just to see if I could get it in, with the intention of releasing it. The Brookings boat harbor is in the Chetco river with a levee isolating it from the rivers current. Motoring out the harbor puts you in the river about 1/2 mi from the ocean. On the south side is a coast guard dock that is used primarily by sea lions for sleeping and watching the fishermen, looking for lunch.

I was slow trolling a plug cut herring in a riff where the downstream river current met the still water of the harbor. The fish-finder indicated fish there but the boats using anchovies were not getting any action. The electric kayak is very quiet and it may have been the difference between spooking the fish and hooking up to one. In any case the rod went down and I set the hook. It felt like a large fish as it didn't even move for a few seconds after the hook set, but then slowly swam up stream. The pull on the line was steady, much like the pull of a freight train. It towed the boat up river for a couple of hundred yards and settled into a deep hole. I stayed over the fish putting as much pressure on it as the line would tolerate. Across the river was a couple of sea lions sunning on 'their dock' looking half asleep.This fish was big enough to feed both of them, and I wondered how long it would take for them to notice my struggle with this fish. After several minutes the fish moved out of the hole and down stream toward a platform where folks often fish for crab using small throw-nets with bait attached. It moved back and forth in front of the crabbing area and it looked like it would end up fouled in a crab line. Now the goal had changed from landing a large salmon to just getting a look at this fish. I felt there was no hope of lifting this monster out of the water and into the boat, and I didn't want to kill it and tow it ashore as it would be a female and it was more important that it complete its spawning cycle. But I really did want to see her.

The fish now headed down river toward the breakwater and the ocean. The swells were too big that day to safely deal with the fish there and my chances of seeing this fish were rapidly fading. A small fishing boat appeared at the harbor entrance heading down river and out to sea. As it approached I waved and shouted 'fish on' pointing to the bent over rod and the fish location. Still the boat did not change course and was moving between me and the fish. More shouting and waving had no effect. I shoved my rod tip as far underwater as I could hoping to get my line deep enough to clear the boats propeller. As the boat crossed my line I felt the fish break free. I yelled a few comments about the skippers eyesight and ancestry while reeling in the slack line. I was surprised to find that I still had my hooks, and they must have pulled out of the fish- the line was not cut. I checked the time and was surprised to find the fish had been on for only half an hour. I was arm-sore and ready to call it a day.

I also had a new appreciation for the little kayaks boat control qualities. The boat is controlled with ones feet. I could steer it, turn the motor off-on and select forward and reverse using only my feet. There was never a time when the boat was not in the best possible position to deal with the fish. Given more room to work the fish I am sure it could have been brought alongside and taken or released. Sadly I never got a look at the fish, but I have caught several salmon over 40 pounds and this one was as big as any I have had a hook into. I am sure as time goes on the size of it will only grow in my recalling that contest. It was a big one.