Salmon fishing from shores still now, should churn up soon

Chris Long, 28, practices casting with his fly fishing rod while his fiancee Chelsey Richter, 25, watches at Bush Point. They were preparing for their honeymoon trip to Vancouver Island, where they planned on fishing for salmon.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Chris Long, 28, practices casting with his fly fishing rod while his fiancee Chelsey Richter, 25, watches at Bush Point. They were preparing for their honeymoon trip to Vancouver Island, where they planned on fishing for salmon.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Monday was a great day for Chelsey Richter and Chris Long to hit the beach at Bush Point for a couple hours of Whidbey angling.

The shore, a long public stretch renowned for being a hotspot for shore fishing, was largely deserted. That left lots of room for the engaged couple with South Whidbey roots to practice casting with a fly rod before their honeymoon this fall on Vancouver Island.

The reason they had all the room was also a disappointment for them and the other anglers: the fish aren’t biting.

Silver salmon season opened Aug. 1 and lasts into April, and the run is supposed to be similar in size to the past two years. King salmon, with a minimum size of 22 inches and clipped adipose fins [a practice done to hatchery fish], may still be kept until Aug. 15.

But Whidbey anglers and experts said the silvers have not made their way into Puget Sound yet.

“Nothing’s working and nowhere’s hitting,” said Stanwood resident Dale Shackley, who was visiting Bush Point in Freeland for the fifth time this summer trying his luck for kings (chinook) and silvers (coho).

He and others along the beach felt they were there at the right time. The tide had come in around noon, it was fairly high, some bait fish schools were seen just off shore, yet nary a nibble.

“Typically, we really don’t see good catches until late August,” said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They trickle in slowly but surely. September’s the peak.”

“Anglers are early, the fish aren’t late,” he said.

Lothrop said that almost 395,000 silver salmon are expected to enter the area starting in late August and clear through September. At present, he reported that a large phytoplankton bloom in the ocean has attracted bait fish, which in turn lured the silvers to feed longer. Ideally, that will make larger and healthier fish.

According to agency catch reports, one of the few places seeing regular returns is in Sekiu on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Linda Dillard, an employee at fishing lodge Olson’s Resort, said they have struggled like everyone else, but have taken advantage of their location — a holding area for salmon waiting for rain to lift river levels and signal a return to their spawning grounds. The Aug. 3 Creel Report on Fish and Wildlife’s website listed 105 coho and 32 chinook brought in by 165 anglers to Olson’s Resort in Sekiu. In many other Puget Sound areas, the fish count was zero.

“It’s been a tough season for everybody,” she said, adding that she went fishing over the weekend, hooked into seven salmon — including one king — and only retained one silver.

“They’re not jumping in the boats anywhere yet,” she added.

Mike Mayes, the fishing expert at Freeland Ace Hardware, said South Whidbey saw a string of decent king catches in past weeks. But now that’s over, and there is a lull between the two salmon species.

“The fish are not here yet,” he said.

When the silver salmon do arrive, the method of luring them to the hook differs. Shackley, a longtime shore angler, said he prefers chrome Buzz Bombs and casting as far out as possible. That allows him more time with the lure in the water, and the fish more of a chance to see it and bite.

“I’ve had hits 50 feet from the beach and at the first turn of the reel 150 feet out,” he said.

Mayes, who spent part of the day at a Whidbey beach Monday, said Buzz Bombs and rotators will do the trick for most beach anglers. He recommended green and white varieties and herring scented gels to mimic herring, and guessed that within a couple of weeks the silvers would make their way into Puget Sound and along Whidbey’s shores.

For Long, 28, and Richter, 25, the trip was nonetheless advantageous. They plan on doing a good deal of salmon fishing after their September wedding and before Richter moves down to Los Angeles, Calif., where Long is stationed with the United States Air Force. The honeymoon fishing trip will be full circle for the two South Whidbey natives.

“He proposed while I had my rod in my hand, while we were on the water,” said Richter, who was identified as the better fly fisher.

“The casting part I haven’t mastered yet,” Long added.


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