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Byline: Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

WINCHESTER BAY - Yes, Virginia, there really is a salmon season on the Oregon coast this summer.

Even though recent reports of season cutbacks might have indicated the demise of the species was at hand, there is a salmon season.

And while it's not producing the Christmas-in-July frenzy of coho catching generations of anglers have come to expect, the season of '08 has enough fish around to provide some fun.

Especially if you turn a day on the ocean into a family outing by mixing in some crabbing and wildlife watching, as Patrick and Kristi Roelle did one day last week with their two young sons, Zac and Wyatt.

On a day the ocean was so smooth not even a ripple marked the location of the Umpqua River bar, the Roelles boated five salmon and a mess of dungeness crab in five hours at sea.

With low-hanging fog masking the presence of other boats, it sometimes seemed as though they had the whole ocean to themselves. However, radio chatter indicated there were at least a couple of dozen other boats fishing, and that many of them had salmon in the fishbox.

But it took more than two hours before the Roelles encountered their first "biter." Zac, who will turn 4 in October, cranked the reel on a rod held firmly in a holder to bring the first of his two "keeper" coho salmon (those with clipped adipose fins) up to boat for his dad to net.

Zac amused himself playing with crabs pulled from pots earlier, while carefully avoiding their pinchers, except for one tear-producing incident.

He looked like a lad well on the way to following in his father's footsteps.

Patrick Roelle is a former fishing guide who gave up his guiding license a few years ago to focus on running the restaurant - Fishpatrick's Crabby Cafe - he and Kristi opened alongside the docks at Salmon Harbor.

Meanwhile, two larger silver salmon caught by Kristi Roelle still had their adipose fins and were released, as was a small chinook that wouldn't have been of legal size even if chinook could be kept.

The chinook species of salmon cannot be harvested this year in ocean waters south of Cape Falcon (near Tillamook). A seriously depressed Sacramento River run, which accounts for a majority of chinook salmon caught off the central Oregon coast, led to that closure.

The year-class of coho now making its way back to Oregon hatcheries also had a subpar survival rate, leading to a harvest quota of only 9,000 fish (compared with 55,000 last summer).

The low quota and the unavailability of the larger chinook - perhaps coupled with the high price of gasoline - apparently led many anglers to write off the opening week of 2008 ocean salmon season.

A couple of local charter boat captains even took other work this summer, Roelle said, including one who went to Alaska to fish. Unlike most other Oregon ports, Winchester Bay does not have any nearby inshore reefs good for bottomfishing, which can provide an alternate source of business in "down" salmon years.

Coastwide, only 4,525 angler trips were recorded the first eight days of the coho season, which opened June 22, according to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. The agency's Ocean Sampling Program has creel checkers at every port.

That tally is about 57 percent below the 10,460 angler trips counted during the first eight days of the 2007 season.

At Winchester Bay, however, the decline in pressure was not quite as severe; the angler count there was down 45 percent. And those who did show up the first full week of the season did reasonably well.

Creel checkers reported the 649 anglers who fished out of Winchester Bay the week of June 23-29 took home 473 fin-clipped coho. That's a catch rate of 0.73 salmon per rod.

Given that those anglers also reported releasing 479 "wild" (unclipped) coho and 260 chinook, they actually had the fun of fighting an average of almost two fish apiece - not counting all the salmon that shook the hook on their own.

Coastwide, the cumulative coho harvest through June 29 was 1,320, leaving 7,680 in the quota.

That number, however, will shrink when the port-by-port harvest figures for the week of June 30-July 6 are posted today at:

Rougher seas over the holiday weekend, however, probably prevented anglers from carving too deeply into the quota.

Once the quota is filled - or before then when the bar's too rough to cross - salmon fishing inside the jetty "jaws" could be pretty good, Roelle said.

With no commercial or sport harvest of chinook allowed in the ocean, the chinook runs returning to Oregon rivers and estuaries will be virtually untouched. However, those runs also are expected to be smaller than normal, so the ODFW reduced the bag limit for most coastal rivers to one non-fin-clipped adult per day.

Meanwhile, the family Fishpatrick did well crabbing in about 30 feet of water just north of the jetty.

Just before pulling the last pots, Roelle swung his boat past the red buoy outside the Umpqua River bar to give his sons a close-up look at the sea lions that had climbed up on the buoy to sun themselves.

The boys especially liked the way the big creatures went after a couple of leftover herring "baits" tossed their way, like feeding seals in a circus.

All-in-all, another fun family day on the Oregon coast, even if there hadn't been a couple of coho to take home.
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Title Annotation:Fishing
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 8, 2008
Previous Article:LUMBER.
Next Article:Too much snow puts twist in sisters' plan with dad to plumb heights of his curiosity.

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