FISH REPORT: FUEL PRICES KEEPING FISHERMEN OFF THE WATER
May 29, 2008 11:00 pm
Dave Heggie from Yreka, Calif. caught his limit of bottom fish last week out of the Port of Brookings Harbor, which included this lingcod and cabezon.  (Photo by Larry Ellis).
Dave Heggie from Yreka, Calif. caught his limit of bottom fish last week out of the Port of Brookings Harbor, which included this lingcod and cabezon. (Photo by Larry Ellis).

By Larry Ellis

Pilot staff writer

The harsh reality of today's economics struck the Port of Brookings Harbor this week. The parking lot, where everybody parks their boat trailers was completely deserted. It was as if everyone went and hid out in a bomb shelter, and that felt kind of eerie.

I would not have given it one moment's thought had it been the week before last, when 30-knot northwest winds formed whitecaps and wind waves.

But on this Wednesday afternoon, the ocean was as flat as a lake. There wasn't even enough of a breeze to fly a kite. In addition, the tides were in perfect accordance with textbook fishing conditions. No one could have planned better ocean conditions if they had the power to do so.

That parking lot should have been at least half filled.

So where were all the boats and trailers? I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure that one out. The average price of regular is now $4 a gallon – and rising.

I got a call from Andy Martin in Alaska last week who told me the price of fuel was trying to get up to $6 a gallon. Everything in the supermarkets was rising.

Obviously, the high price of fuel is starting to have an effect on the pocketbooks of our extended Valley family as well. It just costs too much to drive to the coast and catch a fish.

And I can't say that I blame them. When you figure that it takes about a tank of gas to drive each way from Medford, the math easily adds up to a fuel bill over $100 – minimum. And if visitors stay overnight, one can see the price tag rising even more.

What bothers me isn't so much that my generation is fishing less. What really troubles me is how skyrocketing fuel costs are going to affect the generation that begins right after they reach the age of reason.

If kids 6 years old and older view the price of fuel going up a dollar every few months, will they grow up thinking that it's a normal economic trend? They probably will.

What we have to do as a community is to get busy and start writing our commissioners, congressmen and senators. And not just once in a while. I'm talking about hammering 'em with letters at least once a week, letters where a signature is required so the paper doesn't automatically get eighty-sixed.

Emails may be a sign of the times, but snail mail gets read, especially if it's hand-written. Besides, not everyone has a computer or access to one. Anyway, the Ignore Button is a very convenient way of handling a flood of Internet letters.

Signature-required letters may be expensive, but I think we're going to have to spend money in order to resolve the fuel crisis. If everyone pulls together, we can make a difference.

Brookings offers the best of all worlds for cost-efficient fisheries

There is nothing like the variety of different fisheries that we have here in the Brookings area. It's what I call the land of options. We have more fisheries in this area than Carter's got pills, and many are either untapped or haven't been used in years. There's no two ways about it: Brookings Harbor residents have the best of all worlds.

Our rockfishing fishery is, bar none, the best on the Oregon and California coast. When we get weather like we had last week, and we will, bagging a limit of rockfish is nothing more than heading outside the jaws, turning off your motor and drifting over the reef of your choice.

You don't have to motor all the way up to Mack Arch or head down to Camel in order to fill your freezer. This is the reefiest area on the entire coast.

In fact, there are so many reefs in this vicinity, someone could really make a profit by starting a "name your own rock" fishing chart. It would be similar to having a star named after you. That fad lasted for years until you could only buy a star that was visible using a very expensive Newtonian reflector.

I got a little sidetracked – back to fishing.

Those who did go out after rockfish and lingcod were not disappointed last week. The fishing was simply outstanding. Once again that beautiful music of electric fillet knives filled the cleaning station as anglers brought in some very impressive catches.

Limits of black rockfish were the mainstay last week, and they were a very nice grade, averaging at least 2 1/2 to over 3 pounds each. Many were between 4 and 5 pounds.

The China rockfish that I saw were grotesquely huge, just bulging with eggs. Actually, rockfish give birth to live young just like surfperch do, only they are much smaller, like planktonic larvae.

A black rockfish, for instance, can have 100,000 young when it first matures, then when it grows larger it can have as many as 1,200,000 babies inside it. Of course all don't survive. But think would could happen if we could actually raise them to, say, fingerling size?

Other species were brought to the fillet tables as well such as large cabezon and lingcod.

It didn't matter what you threw at the bottom-grabbers. They whacked just about everything last week, including shrimp flies, grubs, Scampis, plastic worms, leadfish and various kinds of bait.

Surfperch still on the bite

There were several limits of striped surfperch, redtails and calicos being filleted at the tables. Most people were using pieces of raw shrimp and fishing uphill from the Winchuck Wayside, McVay Beach, the motels at Sporthaven Beach, both jetties and Chetco Point Park.

The limit is 15 surfperch, any size.

Dungeness crab

being caught in the harbor

Whenever the ocean lays down like it did the middle of last week, you can expect Dungeness crab to travel from deep water to shallow water, just outside the breakers. There were several crabbers at the public pier on the south jetty who were doing quite well on the Dungies.

Most were throwing crab rings and baiting up with fish carcasses that were already in the barrels at the cleaning station. Be sure to take advantage of this golden opportunity. Not every port has fresh hanging bait available.

Almost anything will work for crab bait. Many people use pieces of raw chicken because it tends not to attract seals and sea lions like salmon carcasses do.

Whatever you do, do not use a cabezon for crab bait. A cabbie is a crab's natural enemy and it has been proven that crab carcasses left in the tidal zone don't get touched by any other crabs.

The farther north you get, the more interesting the bait becomes. There are no reefs in that Reedsport area that are closer than 40 fathoms, so people are forced to be more inventive.

In Winchester Bay, for instance, the main bait for crab is shad. We're talking American shad that weigh between 3 and 6 pounds. Shad were still being caught on the Umpqua last week. Mink is a common bait as well.

One gentleman at the public pier had four nice crab and he was working on his fifth.

You are only allowed to keep 12 male Dungeness crab that measure 5 3/4 inches across the inside of the points.

Low tides are prime all week

for razor clamming

Starting tomorrow, a series of minus low tides will invade the area, creating a perfect opportunity for digging razor clams.

Sunday the -0.8 low tide is at 4:26 a.m. On Monday the tides really start getting low with a -1.7 starting at 5:16 a.m. This minus tide series will extend all the way until a week from Monday.

Remember to get to your spot and be ready with your clam gun or your clam shovel about two hours before low.

The swells shouldn't be too bad this week, so the clamming ought to be fabulous. Work the outside edges of the surf and look for those "shows." Shows can look like a raised dimple with a hole in the center (I like those the best), a dimple or just a little hole about half the size of a pencil.

When you pound the sand with the end of your shovel, the shows will sometimes squirt a little water, change their shape or just do nothing at all.

You want the handle of your shovel facing the dunes, with the spade on the ocean side of the clam.

The regular razor clam beaches are at Myers Creek, Pistol River and Bailey Beach.

Here's a typical clam digging scenario:

The neophyte digger: "How's the clamming; did you get any?"

The guy digging: "It's terrible. I didn't get a single one. This beach must be dry."

The neophyte digger: "I guess I'm wasting my time then."

The guy digging: "Well, it's your time to waste, but I'm giving up and going home."

The guy that was just digging then covertly takes his bag of 15 clams up to his vehicle and the new guy gives up.

Don't buy into that common passion play. It's the oldest trick in the book. Of course most people are not going to tell you that the clamming is wonderful. Then everyone will be swarming around his spot.

Just get out there and dig.

And if you think our beaches are crowded and clamless, check out this Washington State Web site with a typical photo of people digging clams: http://wdfw.wa.gov/ fish/shelfish/razorclm/razorclm. htm.

You can shrimp too – Right Now!

One of most underutilized fisheries on the Oregon coast is shrimping. I was talking a few weeks ago with Clay Mansur from 4M Tackle, who used to lay out shrimp traps just outside the whistle buoy.

Just think, you could go out bottomfishing, lay out a few crab pots and shrimp traps, catch your limit of rockfish and lingcod, and within a few hours you can be enjoying a shrimp cocktail for the first course, crab Louise for the second course and then munch on fresh fish and chips, all you caught that very day.

"I've been trying to get people interested in all the prawns that are out here," says Mansur. "I used to get them all the time."

Crescent City was once the coonstripe shrimp capital of the Pacific Northwest. The shrimp are still there, just waiting for you to drop a trap in the water.

"You'll find them around rocky reefs where it goes from rocks to gravel like right out here off the Whistle Buoy," notes Mansur. "I used to pick up a bucket every day in no more than 150 feet of water."

Shrimp traps use bait jars, just like the ones used in crab traps. Just pack your jars with anchovies or mackerel and set your pots where the gravel meets a reef.

Yes, there is a salmon season

OK, so they cut us off on Chinook salmon, but read these words: ONLY IN THE OCEAN. Many people think that a salmon season means you can only catch salmon during a set time of the year. Well, it may come to that some day, but thankfully, that day hasn't happened yet.

The truth is, there are MANY salmon seasons, not just one. In fact, there are so many salmon seasons you go loopy just thinking about them all.

Yes, there will be an ocean

COHO salmon season

That's right, there will be an ocean salmon season later in June, but only for coho (silver) salmon. There will not be an ocean Chinook (king) salmon season.

Spread the word.

From Cape Falcon (that's way up there in Astoria) to the California border, the OCEAN SALMON SEASON opens June 22 and continues through August 31. You can retain two salmon in the ocean as long as they are not Chinook (king).

The season will close if 9,000 coho (silver) salmon are caught before August 31.

Is this a good thing? Definitely! Why? Because everyone from Cape Falcon down to the California border starts fishing at precisely the same time and date.

Normally, all the fishermen north of Cape Blanco get a head start on us lowly folk down here on da' coast. This year everybody's equal.

So what do you do if you catch one of the other three species of salmon?

Well, should you be so fortunate as to hook a sockeye salmon, a pink salmon or a chum salmon, and you have not limited out, you may keep one. What are the odds at catching one of these other salmon varieties?

Let's start with the sockeye, also known as a red salmon. They're vegetarians and live further north, so the chances of catching a sockeye are slim to none.

Now I have seen pink salmon caught out here. Pinks are also called humpies. It used to be that the commercials would catch one or two a year back in the day. So your chance at hooking a pink is not very good either.

What about a chum salmon? Chums are also called dog salmon. They got a pretty bad reputation for their taste. I remember the first one I caught was in Puget Sound and it was way over 20 pounds. It was the first salmon I ever caught and it tasted pretty darned good.

It all depends how long it's been in fresh water. If you should catch a chum salmon in the ocean, it will be a good eater, for sure. But they are also not frequently caught off of Brookings, although I have seen them. Another longshot on the chum.

The best thing you can do is to bone up on your coho catching skills. Coho are generally caught in the upper water column, so usually Deep Divers and dodgers are used for those critters.

Coho love things that are pink – pink spinners, pink hoochies, pink-dyed anchovies – you get the picture.

And you can troll faster for coho which mean you probably will catch less Chinook. But we didn't want one of those anyway since we can't keep them (sour grapes).

One of the best rigs for coho is to stick two anchovy heads on your mooching leader, one for each hook. Val Perry, a former Brookings guide calls that rig "coho kandy."

So you've got three weeks to go for the coho season.

To sum things up, there are so many incredible edibles out there, you can feast to your heart's delight on any given day, courtesy of Davey Jones's Locker.

Tight lines!