Freshwater salmon year coming to an end

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 2, 2013 

The last salmon returns of the calendar year, the chum runs, are on the verge of entering their freshwater streams to head for natural spawning grounds or area fish hatcheries.

Again this year, Skagit River anglers must take a pass on upstream-bound dogs, as the regulations prohibit keeping them.

For such a big river, the pre-season forecast is for just 15,325 chum to return, of which all but 1,473 are wild fish. Because this is below the target escapement goal, no fish can be taken out of the run.

Skagit fishers, however, do have a robust coho run, projected to be 153,530 fish. That's more than twice last year's predicted silver return.

Whatcom Creek has a well-publicized return of chum salmon bound for the Bellingham Technical College's training hatchery, located at the mouth of the stream east of C Street and two blocks north of Holly Street.

A return in the range of 1,450 dogs is expected, and anglers may legally ply for them from the footbridge below the Pickett Bridge on Dupont Street.

The creek's estuary also is open to salmon fishing out to a line across the waterway from the Port of Bellingham's North Terminal Dock to the southeast corner of Old Georgia Pacific's wastewater lagoon.

Beyond this line, Marine Area 7 waters are closed for salmon in November.

Anglers may keep six salmon per day with the important caveat that only two may be adults.

Since the chum salmon species does not have a jack component in their returns, anglers may take only two chum home each day.

Besides simple catch and release, anglers can slip each chum salmon brought to hand into a long water-filled PVC slide tube near the ladder steps that conveys them to the hatchery's holding pond, where they become part of the facility's broodstock for spawning.

Anglers are allowed to put as many chum into the hatchery tube as they catch, and they don't count against the take-home limit.

The main Nooksack River, North Fork and South Fork also are open to the taking of salmon this fall, but the rules vary by reach.

The mainstem from the Lummi Nation boundary near Marine Drive upstream to the confluence of the north and south forks is open to the taking of chum, coho and chinook until the end of December. The daily limit is two salmon per day, and anglers may take home two additional coho as well.

In the North Fork Nooksack up to the mouth of Maple Creek, anglers may fish for and retain coho, chum and chinook through the last day of November. Motors are banned on boats from the first of November to closing. The same daily salmon take on the mainstem applies on the North Fork.

Anglers should note that breeding chum in North Fork side channels are off-limits and may not be disturbed.

For South Fork fishers, the rules are tweaked a bit. It's open through the end of December for salmon upstream to the mouth of Skookum Creek from its joining with the North Fork. Anglers may keep up to four salmon including two bonus coho, but all chum or dog salmon must be released.

For chum salmon in clearer water, anglers can resort to a surprisingly simple terminal rig - a drifted chartreuse yarn fly.

It is a much smaller chum run, no longer augmented by egg-box out-plantings, that returns now to the Samish River, but until the end of November chum may be kept if caught in the reach from the Bayview-Edison bridge upstream to Interstate 5.

Pleasantly surprising this year is that the Samish is expected to host a coho return of more than 17,000 fish, up nearly eight-fold over last year's return. Because of this abundance, anglers are allowed to take coho home as part of their two salmon a day limit.

One other county salmon stream option is Dakota Creek, from Giles Road downstream, for its now naturally reproducing coho. There's limited bank access here, and the selective gear rule applies.

In addition to a basic Washington fishing license, anglers must have a salmon catch record card or sheet on which all retained salmon must be logged immediately after they're caught.

SALTWATER OPTIONS CHANGE

Marine Area 7, the expanse of saltwater off western Whatcom and northwestern Skagit counties also encompassing the San Juan Islands, as well as adjacent Marine Area 6 (at the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca), are closed in November to fishing for salmon and most other popularly sought fin fishes except cabezon.

Both sport fishing management zones are, however, open seven days a week for personal use crab gathering through the end of December. Dungeness seekers must have a winter catch record card.

If you're a hardcore salmon angler who can't shake the habit, within reasonable driving and even boating distance to the south are Marine Area 8.1 (the Deception Pass/Skagit Bay) and Marine Area 8.2 (Port Susan/Port Gardner) and Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) that are open for chinook until April.

Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays. Read his outdoors blogs and contact him at bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.

MORE RAZOR CLAM DIGS

A total of 16 more proposed dig days including a three-day option up to New Year's Eve have been penciled into the late November and December calendars. The dates for these personal use open dig sequences are:

? Nov. 30 to Dec. 7

? Dec. 14-18

? Dec. 29-31.

All diggers age 15 or older must have an applicable 2013-14 fishing license to gather razor clams on any beach. For details about beaches involved each opening day as well as general information about razor clams and digging log on to wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/shellfish/razorclams/.

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