Next week, federal fisheries managers will begin developing the 2022 ocean salmon fishing season
BROOKINGS — Since he started organizing sea fishing trips in January, Brookings charter boat Captain Andy Martin has seen many foreshadowings of spring.
On a regular basis, a big lingcod fishing client has discovered a feeding chinook salmon, also known as a king salmon, in the waters off southern Oregon, where it is not not normally seen until spring.
“On almost every charter trip, we would get at least one king that we had to give up,” says Martin, owner of Brookings Fishing Charters.
But these released salmon were not considered a disappointment. Martin is confident they are a harbinger for the upcoming recreational sea salmon season this year.
“When you see these fish early, we’ll see them in the season,” Martin says.
Photo by Mark Freeman Jamie Lusch holds a landed and released Chinook salmon while fishing for lingcod near Brookings in 2018.
The exact date and length of this season is up for debate as federal fisheries managers and the public begin next week to define what coastwide salmon fishing will look like for recreational and commercial fleets. .
Buoyed by improved estimates of the number of salmon currently swimming off the coasts of southern Oregon and northern California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is analyzing the data as part of the sausage-making exercise to develop fishing season options for public comment.
The council is reviewing estimates of 850,000 adult chinook salmon off the coasts of southern Oregon and northern California in an area called the Klamath Management Area.
These fish include chinook bound for the Sacramento and Klamath Rivers in California and the Rogue River in Oregon. These chinook all leave their natal rivers, head south and congregate in the Pacific before returning inland to spawn.
Sacramento and Klamath chinook stock estimates are up, while Rogue is down about 10% from last year’s forecast, according to the PFMC.
Richard Heap, a Brookings man who represents Oregon anglers on the PFMC’s salmon advisory subcommittee, says he expects an overall season similar to last year.
However, the debate will be where to give up that part of the fishing days during the four months of spring and summer, when chinook are king of the south coast.
Heap says he’s pushing for an option to start in late May and run through July and, potentially, into early August. This structure could benefit from better wind conditions as seen in the spring here last year.
A second option could be to start at the end of June and continue until August.
They represent different ideas about which format would accommodate the most and the best fishing days for Brookings, which is one of Oregon’s most productive salmon ports.
An early season can take advantage of more chinook available and better wind conditions like last year, while the season that starts later is more in step with history.
More fish and less wind is the summer mantra Martin and other salmon enthusiasts regularly utter, and Martin says he prefers the May opening, especially if last year was any indicator.
Amid a month of generally light winds, the May chinook catch at Brookings was large enough to catapult the small port to the top tier of Oregon’s coastal ports last year, according to ODFW records.
Historically, this was not the case. Seasons were often designed to be strong on the back end, aiming for a full August and Labor Day weekend to fish something anglers were looking for.
But since 2014, the August catches have not been dominant, records show.
In recent years, cold water off the San Francisco Bay Area has prevented some chinook from migrating north into southern Oregon waters, as they typically do, Heap says.
This weather pattern has also led to windy summer endings off Brookings, where wind – not crossings – is by far the most limiting factor for angler travel.
“We’ll try to figure out how to shape the season so that we can have the best opportunity there,” Heap said.
Martin thinks that means speeding up the season as much as possible this year.
“I would much rather have the opening (in May) when we have the opportunity to have the most abundance of salmon,” says Martin.
The council will also consider whether to recommend a return of the October “bubble fishing” targeting Chinook tied to the Chetco River just at the mouth of the river.
A shortage of surplus chinook returning to the Chetco has kept this fishery – which is very popular among locals when the weather permits – closed since 2019.
Contact Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or [email protected]