FIGURING OUT SALMON REGULTIONS NOT EASY

July 11, 2008 11:00 pm

Fishing report for July 4-10

Fully comprehending the fishing regulations as described in the annual pamphlet handed out by ODFW can be confusing to a lot of folks, but as the saying goes, there is order in disorder.

Actually the people who are in charge of assembling the manual should be congratulated for their efforts. They do a magnificent job in presenting the statutes in a concise and methodical pattern.

There used to be a saying that you needed a lawyer in order to interpret the angling laws. In actuality, you don't have to be a rocket scientist in order to grasp these ordinances. You do, however, have to read the booklet thoroughly, sometimes multiple times until the light bulb finally goes on.

That is not the case in this year's emergency salmon regulations.

In the ODFW news release revised on June 20, I did my homework. I read certain paragraphs 50 times in a row, hoping the underbelly of the law would finally sink in. But the more I read, the deeper I sank.

So I made at least a dozen phone calls to prominent ODFW officials and people active in recreational committees hoping to gain insight into the salmon regulations. Some of the folks ended up more confused than I was.

But here's what I was finally able to fathom about the Chinook season from August 1 through December 31.

For the Marine Zone, and for most rivers on the Oregon Coast in the Northwest and Southwest Zones, you are only allowed to keep one wild Chinook per day, and only five wild Chinook per year, the infamous one-and-five rule.

Wild Chinook are described in the news release as non-fin clipped Chinook, so, according to the regulation, it doesn't matter whether the fin is an adipose or a ventral. A fin is a fin.

This five wild fish bag limit is in aggregate, or, in combination with all of the zones. In other words, if you harvest two wild Chinook in Tillamook Bay, you can only retain three other wild Chinook for the rest of the year.

This is where a game plan for kings is extremely important this season, because you're going to have to perform a Chinook balancing act in most of the rivers and in the Marine Zone in order not to exceed five wild fish.

I mentioned the Marine Zone only because the five wild fish seasonal aggregate also includes our Chetco Bubble Fishery. So if you plan on fishing in the Chetco ocean terminal fishery in October, remember to leave room for these big boys in October.

FYI, the one-and-five rule for wild Chinook also applies to the Chetco River, which doesn't open for Chinook until November 1.

You're probably wondering why I'm harping so much about wild Chinook and not hatchery Chinook. That's because you're not going to see a heck of a lot of fall fish with clipped fins. You're going to see some, but not a substantial amount.

For most of Oregon's rivers, fall Chinook are a self-sustaining and fully autonomous salmon that don't need any help from hatcheries.

The Rogue River is a prime example. All of her fall Chinook will have an intact adipose fin. The exception is the Indian Creek fish, a small population of hatchery Chinook specifically designed to return to the lower estuary in October.

Elk River Hatchery is now adipose fin clipping 100-percent of the Chetco's fish. This year, the first batch of 100-percent adipose fin clipped jacks will be returning. Last year, 100 percent of the jacks were ventral fin clipped. Next year the 3-year-olds will all return with a clipped adipose and the following year, the 4-year-olds will come back missing their adipose fins.

The Chetco is actually setting a precedent for other rivers to follow. This is a great experiment which will prove exactly how many wild fish return versus hatchery fish. Anglers will be able to differentiate between wild and hatchery stocks.

By purchasing hatchery harvest tags you can keep up to 10 fin-clipped salmon or steelhead and not have it impact your main tag. Save your main tag for the wild fish.

There are exceptions to the one-and-five wild Chinook rule, the Rogue River being one of them. Here, you may keep 10 non-fin clipped Chinook for the season. But if you catch 10 wild Chinook on the Rogue, you're done for the rest of the year.

Here's another example of the wild and wacky Chinook season. For example, if you didn't retain any fall Chinook on the Rogue at all, you could reach your five wild Chinook seasonal aggregate for all the zones, then keep an additional five wild Chinook on the Rogue. You could not reach your seasonal aggregate in other rivers and then keep an additional 10 wild Chinook on the Rogue.

I hope this sheds some light on how this year's Chinook season works, but you still may have to hire an attorney to help you understand these latest statutes.

My question is, what would an attorney do if he or she needed to further comprehend the latest regulations? Why, hire a rocket scientist of course.

Rogue bay opens today for the retention of non-fin clipped adult Chinook

Starting today, July 12, anglers fishing in the Rogue Bay may start retaining non-fin clipped adult Chinook from the mouth upstream to Elephant Rock. After August 1, you may keep wild Chinook above Elephant Rock.

This year may be the transition between a poor cycle and the start of a new upward trend. If not this year, then the next.

There are quite a few reasons why you should expect a fair season this year.

"If there's one or two fish caught on the Fourth of July, the fishing usually will be pretty good," said Steve Beyerlin from fishoregon.com.

"This year on the Fourth there were seven fish landed out of 10 boats and there were as many lost as there were landed. That's the best I have heard this early in season in my memory."

Remember that awesome year in 2002? You should. That was the year there were plenty of 50- and 60-pound Chinook caught. Steve Perry of Reedsport caught that record 66 pound Chinook which was later eclipsed by Grant Martinsen's 71 1/2 pound monster that went into the IGFA book for the largest salmon caught on a fly. This would be the year that the 5-year old progeny of those fish would be returning.

"We might not have as many fish in the bay this year, but we will probably see a lot more larger fish in the run," says Todd Confer, ODFW District Biologist for the area's watershed.

There's going to be a turnaround on this fishery at some point soon. If not this year, the next.

Anglers in Brooking scoring one third of the season's coho quota

Anglers who ventured out of the Port of Brookings Harbor have been flat-out catching coho like Carter's got pills.

To be precise, we are now at 33.6-percent of the quota. Brookings has landed 1,052 coho for the season while the Winchester Bay anglers beat us with 1,186 silvers.

Brookings has caught about a third of the entire coastline's total. Northwest winds put a halt on coho fishing for at least half the week.

Anglers had a fairly high salmon average per person. The fish were tipping the scales at a whopping 8-pound average, but I saw quite a few fish over 10 pounds. Monica Fischer scored a nice 12 and a half pound silver last week.

Winchester Bay also caught and released 548 chinook so far, with a large percentage of them being in the mid to upper 20s. Those fish very well could be Rogue River bound.

Other incredible edibles

On the days anglers could get out to sea, the bottomfishing was second to none, with everyone limiting out. Remember that the new bag limit for groundfish is five now. The lingcod limit remains the same.

I also saw some gargantuan surfperch being filleted at the cleaning station. Two fellows were cleaning limits of striped surfperch with a few pinkfin thrown in. The striped surfperch were fat and plump and averaged at least 2 pounds each.

In addition, they were spitting babies like no tomorrow. This fish have matured at a tremendous rate. Remember that a lot of these fish are on the verge of giving birth, so you can often gently squeeze their abdomens to free many of their young, which will immediately start swimming away. That's better than seeing the wee ones flop around at the fillet tables, knowing they don't stand a chance at life.

However, I did see one guy take one of the little scrappers down to the launch ramp and release it.

As soon as these northwest winds subside, we're going to have some awesome rockfish, lingcod and perch fishing.

Tight Lines!