Not a matter of if the salmon are coming ... but when
Written by Larry Ellis, fishing columnist   
May 18, 2012 09:33 pm

Barbara Chapman, left, of Prospect, and Karen Wasniewski of Gold Hill caught limits of rockfish and near-limits of Dungeness crab while fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor with their family on Mothers Day. The crab were in 80 feet of water. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
 

Fishing report for 

May 11-17

Salmon fishing in the ocean has never been red hot in May for anglers fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. Traditionally, the bite really doesn’t start turning on until June. But there are three reasons why salmon fishermen should start sharpening their hooks and buying bait this month. The first Chinook of the year was caught last Monday, May 14, by Carol Heil of Medford, and two more ocean kings were brought into the Brookings fillet station the following Wednesday.

All three kings were approximately the same size, nice 8- to 10-pounders. With this similarity in size, and the fact that they were all caught early in the season, there is a strong possibility that these salmon could be from the batch of 1.5-million Klamath River 3-year-old Chinook that are predicted to be swimming in the ocean this year.

 

While Carol’s Chinook is being touted as the first salmon of the year in southern Oregon, there is solid evidence that two other ocean Chinook were caught exactly one week earlier on Monday, May 7. While checking the fish barrels that Monday evening, I discovered two freshly-filleted salmon. The lengths and sizes of both fish carcasses appeared to be carbon copies of the salmon caught last week.

Now, a person could argue that the fish carcasses in the barrels were Rogue springers caught by Brookings anglers who decided to fillet their fish at the Port of Brookings Harbor’s cleaning facility. But I was fishing on the Rogue that day with two of the best anglers in our area. Early in the morning, one of the passengers, Tom Olsen caught and released a wild 25-pound springer.

Later in the day, we saw at least 50 boats on the river. We were in a hawg-line of 8 boats, lined up side-to-side, and we passed several other hawg-lines as well. Some of the very best guides on the Rogue were in these lineups, and none of them could buy a bite that Monday.

Additionally, the Klamath River was too high for boats to launch that day, so Klamath springers were also out of the question. It would not be difficult to ascertain that both of the salmon found in the barrels on May 7 were the first ocean salmon caught of the year, but since nobody stepped up to the plate to claim them, Heil rightly earns the bragging rights for being the first person to hook and land an ocean Chinook while fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor.

Heil caught her fish while trolling a herring 60-feet deep near the Whistle Buoy.

“We were only trolling about five minutes when the rod went down,” she recalls.

Most certainly other salmon can be expected to follow this month. A well-known charter boat operator, Jim Bithell of Charthouse Sportfishing was trolling about 7 miles offshore when one of his rods got hammered by what appeared to be a Chinook.

“The anchovy was just shredded,” Bithell said, while describing the mangled bait.

Bithell also mentioned that there were lots of birds feeding in this location, as well as some very spicy current rips and trash lines, all sure signs of probable salmon water. The only factor missing from the equation was 52-degree water, the temperature when Chinook bite the most aggressively.

Meanwhile, boaters out of the Port of Eureka have been limiting out on 3- and 4-year-old kings, and folks fishing out of the Port of Crescent City also enjoyed salmon opportunity as well. So it’s not a matter of if the salmon are coming; it’s simply a matter of when, and it’s going to be when the water temperature warms up between 50 and 52 degrees.

This time of the year, you can expect some howling northwest winds as well, what some of the old-timers call a “dirty northwest,” the brownish color of the ocean that is caused by upwelling.

Upwelling is caused when fierce winds blow surface water away, creating a vacuum. To replace the surface water, nutrients are sucked up from the ocean bottom. At first the water appears brownish in appearance.

A few days after the winds stop, the color starts to take on a pea-green hue. This is the nutrient soup of the plankton-rich salt water that baitfish such as anchovies, herring, sardines and Pacific sand lance thrive on. So wind is a good thing for salmon.

Early in the season, baitfish will be small, and will grow increasingly larger as the season progresses. And as the baitfish grows, so do the salmon.

These early 10-pound, 3-year-old kings will put on between 2 to 4 pounds a month. By July, they will be between 14 and 16 pounds, and by September they could approach 18 pounds.

Because of this ever-increasing baitfish growth, it’s also a good idea to match the hatch. So early in the season, use smaller baits, then as the months progress, gradually increase the size of your offering.

Right now, these 3-year-olds have diminutive mouths, so if you use too large of a baitfish, the salmon might have a hard time gulping down their meal. Pacific sand lance are also small this time of year, and salmon will be feeding on plenty of those as well.

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The bottom fishing finally broke wide open last week, with anglers hauling in limits upon limits of lingcod and rockfish.

“There are so many lingcod out there it’s absolutely ridiculous,” exclaimed Bithell. “There are so many lings on the bottom, they’re pushing the rockfish up to the mid-column. The rockfish are just trying to keep from getting eaten.”

So when these screaming northwest winds finally decide stop blowing, and the ocean lies down once again, break out your rockfishing gear and head south, young man, head south. Anglers have not had to travel very far for their limits of rockfish and lings. And therein describes Brookings – Gateway to fishing paradise and the most cost-effective fishery in the Pacific Northwest.

Tight lines!