Ocean Chinook salmon, Pacific halibut season opens Tuesday

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist April 27, 2012 09:48 pm

Rick Elkins of Redding, Calif. (left) and Tom Schwoob of Brookings hold two of the three springers they caught on the Rogue River on Tuesday. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
 

Fishing report for 

April 20-26

This coming Tuesday, May 1, saltwater anglers south of Humbug Mountain are going to get a chance to see if last year’s shallow-water Pacific halibut haunts will be kicking out the same 50-, 60- and 70-pound flatties that were commonly caught close to the Port of Brookings Harbor in 2011.

 

Last year, for some unknown reason, catches of very large Pacific halibut were caught accidentally by anglers fishing for rockfish and lingcod. Later in the season, folks found out that they could target the barndoors in shallow water off of places like House Rock and the Thomas Creek Bridge.

Back in 2006, I wrote two feature articles for the former Fishing & Hunting News which highlighted secret halibut hot spots off of the Washington and Oregon coast. ESPN Outdoors ran these articles online for years.

But truth be known, these spots weren’t really secret at all. All of the information was already available online through the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s (IPHC) stock assessment survey data. Every year the IPHC charters a vessel to conduct these surveys at various stations to determine stock abundance and migration habits.

Various numbered stations possessing specific coordinates are fished one day a year. While perusing the coordinates to these stations, I found that some of them were located close to Brookings.

After some careful observations, I found that station 1002 kicked out several halibut every year, although some years were more prolific than others. Station 1002, coincidentally, was located in 300 feet of water directly off of the Thomas Creek Bridge in an area where sand and mud tend to converge. The coordinates to station 1002 are 42 degrees 10 minutes 3 seconds north latitude; 124 degrees 27 minutes 3 seconds west longitude.

Recreational anglers were quickly drawn to station 1002, intrigued by the possibility of catching a monster Pacific halibut. With reels loaded with 80-pound Power-Pro braid, fishermen started dropping halibut spreaders weighted with 2- and 3-pound sinkers. The choice of bait was large, black label herring with a 5-inch strip of salmon belly.

As time rolled on, anglers started testing the shallower water in the 120- to 220-feet range closer to shore and found halibut-friendly structure. It really wasn’t until last year that this place started producing the mottled flatties.

Will this spot continue to kick out halibut this year? My guess is that this particular explosion of halibut was more of a fluke than a flounder, a one-of-a-kind anomaly that probably won’t occur for another hundred years. But there are hundreds of anglers who would love to prove me wrong, and I hope they do.  The answer will come on the first flat-calm day in the ocean some time in May.

But there is another spot that has always garnered my attention, a place near the California/Oregon border that has been well known to produce big slabs from time to time. It’s just north of the St. George Lighthouse as you cross into Oregon water.

Coincidentally, it is also near IPHC Station 1001, but slightly further north and inland. This is an area where mud and sand converge, indicated by the SM notation on the navigational chart. When reading a nautical chart, S stands for sand, M represents mud and G is the symbol for gravel.

Any time you find a convergence of structure such as mud, sand or gravel, there is a chance that a halibut could be finning its way along the bottom. The coordinates for this area are 42 degrees 0 minutes 15 seconds north latitude; 124 degrees 22 minutes 58 seconds west longitude.

It is a lot of fun looking at nautical charts and trying to decide which areas might hold halibut. But ultimately you’re going to need to read your depth finder in order to find unusual structure such as hard bottom or a rock pile that converges with gravel, sand or mud. If you happen to locate a high spot, no matter how large or small in the middle of the aforementioned bottoms – then it’s “bombs away” and hold on!

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Tuesday is also the first day of the ocean Chinook salmon season south of Humbug Mountain. 1.5 million 3-year-olds and .1 million 4-year-old Chinook from the Klamath River are anticipated to be swimming somewhere between Humbug Mountain and Horse Mountain.

In addition, there should also be over 800,000 3-, 4- and 5-year-old Chinook from the Sacramento River flipper-kicking their way through the ocean as well. One local-area charter boat operator is looking forward to the opener.

“I’ve seen a lot of current lines and birds working the water,” says Captain Jim Bithell of Charthouse Sportfishing. “That’s a good sign. We’ve even had salmon come up and check out our bottomfishing gear.”

The first part of May is always the most difficult part of the season because sport fishermen are working hard at locating the schools. But once they’re found, it’s game on!

As the season progresses, the fishing should get better and better, so make sure that you have a copious quantity of fresh bait on hand. Marge Mansur at Four M Tackle in Harbor just informed me that she will be carrying plenty of herring and anchovies.

Fishing for Chinook in the ocean is a trolling show, and trolling eats up fuel. But don’t let the high price of gasoline and diesel dissuade you from fishing. Buddy up with a few friends to share in fuel expenses and to get some extra lines in the water.

With three people on board, start with two outside rods fishing deep on down riggers and run the middle rod shallow at 17 pulls. A good combination for the center rig is to run a Deep Six Diver with a Big Al’s Fish Flash.

Bithell also reported that the bottomfishing in the ocean near the Port of Brookings Harbor has been stellar. He suggests that folks head uphill to find their lings and rockfish, away from freshwater influence from the high rivers.

Every time I see Bithell at the port’s fillet station, he’s limited out on lingasaurs and rockfish.

Tight lines!