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Salmon.

The West Coast's wonder-fish is staging a comeback . . . or is it? Here is how and where to go fishing. And here is how to understand the salmon dilemma

"Fish on!" the deck hand shouts, staring hard in your direction. For an instant no one moves, then everyone moves at once. Angling pals back away as you scramble for the dancing rod, feet sliding on the pitching deck. Reeling for all you're worth, you quickly feel the power of the salmon at the other end of the line.

Will the 20-pound-test hold, will the hook stay put, will your prize be lost at the net? The battle has been joined, but the outcome is never guaranteed. That's part of salmon fishing's appeal, and why so many of us in the West can't get enough of it.

After decades of decline in salmon's fortunes, some runs are rebuilding, offering good fishing from California's Monterey Bay to Puget Sound, Is this the beginning of a general turnaround, as fisheries managers contend? Or do recent increases, welcome as they are, only mask fundamental problems?

On these eight pages, we survey the nascent West Coast salmon comeback. You'll find tips on where to fish and when, how to book a charter or go on your own, and (on page 196) how to bleed, clean, and ice your catch.

But not only sportsmen have a stake in salmon and their fate. This legendary fish affects all of us in one way or another.

Salmon means food for the table and a livelihood for commercial fishermen. It's the spiritual centerpiece of North Coast Indian culture and a barometer of the health of our streams. With so much at risk, we review what's being done (or not done) to protect salmon on their two most important rivers in the West--the Columbia and Sacramento.

Born to roam, salmon begin their lives in Western rivers

Five species of Pacific salmon, or Oncorhynchus, originate in fresh-water streams from Alaska to California or, increasingly these days, in hatcheries.

In the wild, the miracle begins in gravel beds beneath the waters of clear, cold, fast-flowing streams. Battered and exhausted after their long journey from the ocean, their bodies transformed by the onset of spawning, salmon pair up, mate, then die.

With her powerful tail, the female digs out a nest, or redd, about 18 inches deep and deposits up to 5,000 eggs. The male-back arched, jaws booked, teeth enlarged to ward off other suitors (see box below right) fertilizes the eggs with a milky liquid called milt. More gravel is layered over the eggs, and the cycle begins.

Young fish typically feed in fresh water for 3 to 18 months before migrating to sea. Most spend two to five years roaming the North Pacific, generally in a counterclockwise direction.

Finally, salmon return to the streams of their birth, sometimes traveling across thousands of miles of ocean to reach our coast. They school at river mouths before ascending their natal streams, often for hundreds of miles, to spawn.

When salmon meet fresh water, they begin to lose their silvery brightness and gradually take on darker spawning colors.

Big chinook, tasty sockeye, feisty coho

Salmon boast a string of common names and aliases. Starting below, we describe the five West Coast species (a sixth is native to Japan). All but pink are shown in their sea-run stage; the pink's spawning dress is typical, but the male boasts an exaggerated hump, hence its nickname"humpy."

Pink (O. gorbuscha) are smallest (1-1/2 to 12 pounds) and, in Washington, run only in odd-numbered years, such as 1989.

Chum (O. keta), or dog salmon, range from 3 to 35 pounds and are largely commercial fish. You'll know them by their pattern of faint vertical stripes.

Coho (O. kisutch), or silver, spend one to two years at sea, and average about 8 pounds (30 pounds tops). But coho are great leapers, famous fighters, and much prized by sportsmen, Look for a whitish

gum line and tail with few spots.

Sockeye (O. nerka), alias red, spend a year or so in a fresh-water lake before heading to sea, where they roam up to four years. Average weight is 7 pounds, maximum is 12. Sockeye are often regarded as a primarily commercial species, but sport anglers swear that they're the most flavorful salmon. Most streamlined of the species, sockeye have prominent eyes and soft, almost toothless jaws.

Chinook (O. tshawytscha) earn the nickname "king" (also tyee or spring) for their enormous size-average weight is 20 pounds, the world record 126. The most important salmon to sportfishermen, chinook are bigger because they spend up to five years at sea; "five-salt" salmon are always bigger than two-salt fish. Look for a black gum line and flowing tail covered with round spots.

What you catch, and where

Upriver migrations begin in spring in many areas, with successive runs continuing through summer, into fall, and even into early winter on some streams.

Ocean sportfishing begins in February in California, as late as July in parts of Oregon and Washington. Legal fishing seasons vary widely, but the ocean is often finished by Labor Day, while action continues until winter in bays, river mouths, or farther upstream. In Puget Sound, you can fish legally year-round.

Pacific salmon species are not evenly distributed. Chinook predominate along the California coast and are the only salmon

in the Sacramento system.

Coho become abundant on the Oregon coast; they share the Columbia River with large numbers of chinook and a scattering

of sockeye, chum, and pinks.

The Washington coast and Strait of Juan de Fuca nurture all species, but chinook and coho are most often caught. Farther north, pinks grow in abundance, and sockeye begin to predominate in major streams like the Fraser in British Columbia, culminating in runs of some 30 million fish into Alaska's Bristol Bay.

What's the forecast for 1989?

"Bright, but uneven," fisheries spokesmen told us. Last year marked the biggest harvest of West Coast chinook by sport and commercial fishermen since 1945over 2 million salmon, according to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, an agency that recommends quotas and fishing limits on the West Coast. North Pacific Management Council does this for Alaska; Pacific Salmon Commission negotiates agreements with Canada.

Look for "another banner year" for ocean charters in California, strong returns to Oregon bays and rivers, another large run of fall chinook to the Columbia, fewer restrictions on Puget Sound sportsmen.

But trouble spots abound. Ocean fishing in areas 2 and 4 (see box below) is still plagued with short or uncertain seasons. Salmon are abundant, but managers limit fishing to protect weaker stocks (in numbers) that intermingle with stronger stocks. Negotiations with Canada may increase angling this year.

Going fishing: timing your trip

Salmon runs arrive at slightly different times each year, following variations in rainfall, weather, and stream temperatures. But fairly predictable patterns allow you to fish at optimum moments.

The profiles below will help you keep pace with a multitude of runs and host of management zones, amid a maze of changing regulations.

Limits, regulations, even seasons are often adjusted to meet quotas. Preliminary dates in each area are noted, but final ones will be set this month. For updates, call state information offices.

Profiles cover differentocean management zones, giving best months and prospects for bay, river, and lake angling. We also list state hotline numbers, fisheries offices, and charter boat and river guides' associations. All can direct you to the best fishing at a given moment.

Daily limits vary widely-standard ocean limit is two fish (four in B.C., two to six in Alaska). One-day licenses cost $4 to $10 (less for children and seniors); sometimes a catch record (punch card) must be filled in.

Going fishing: how and where

Standard charters are best for most of us: they're convenient, affordable, and successful. Charters are great for youngsters, out-of-town guests, a family on vacation.

The charter office makes up groups, so you don't need to bring your own party; the skipper finds the fish, often using sophisticated electronics; and the deck-hand shows you how to reel them in and often baits your hook. You may troll, mooch (drift with the current), or jig. All tackle and bait are provided; you bring lunch, warm clothes, rain gear, and perhaps seasickness remedies. Operators fish every day of the season, except when storms lock boats in port.

Group size varies from half a dozen to 40, on boats that range from 35 feet up, with heated cabins and heads (toilets). Trips last from a few hours to a half- or full day. Cost runs from $40 to $60 per person ($200 or more in B.C. and Alaska).

The charter experience is much the same from Monterey to Juneau. Main differences are group size, whether you fish in protected waters like Puget Sound or on the open ocean, and how far you "run" to good fishing (an hour from San Francisco; 30 minutes from Depoe Bay, Oregon; 15 minutes from Seattle).

Ocean fishing often means longer runs, rougher water, and more chance of seasickness enough to dissuade some would-be anglers. But effective remedies exist; ask your doctor for advice.

Charter fishing also necessitates a group approach, and some people object to vying with a dozen or more anglers for help.

More personal guided outings on both salt water and fresh are growing in popularity, but they cost more than standard charters, and success is less predictable.

Sixpack charters use smaller boats for groups up to six; you mooch, troll, or jig for fish. You'll find a handful in California, more in bays and river mouths along the Oregon coast, and a few around Puget Sound, where day trips cost $65.

Small open boats with a guide and one or two anglers are widespread in the protected waters of British Columbia (a 4-hour trip is $125 US. and up). This is standard at fly-in resorts in both B.C. and southeast Alaska. At such resorts, a guide and boat are part of a package covering lodging and meals and costing about $250 to $300 a day per person (round-trip seaplane fare from Seattle to B.C. lodges is around $250). Trolling and mooching are principal methods.

Fresh-water guides on big, broad rivers such as the Sacramento, Columbia, and Skagit use small but powerful 'Jet sleds" to help you find salmon (up to 4 people, $100 a rod). On other salmon streams such as the Klamath, Umpqua, Rogue, Bogachiel, and Skykomish, guides may use classic oar-powered western driftboats (two anglers, $200 a day and up).

Walk-in guides don't use boats, but wade rivers like the Trinity, Smith, and Kenai ($125 to $150 per angler per day). Favored by avid fly-fishermen, this approach is popular in Alaska, where streams are reached by floatplane.

Fishing on your own, for some, is the only way to go. But to succeed, you need experience and angling savvy If you're a newcomer, go with a guide or take a charter first, and ask a lot of questions.

The more unfamiliar the water, the more questions you must ask. What are local seasons, regulations, and limits? When do key runs arrive? What times of day and

what fishing methods are best?

State offices can get you started. Marinas and nautical and tackle shops can supply charts, tide tables, and information.

If you don't own a boat, public piers and jetties (Oregon coast, in Puget Sound) provide the easiest approach. You can get by with spinning equipment to drop jigs and cast spoons.

Rivers afford many opportunities for bank fishermen, and on some inland lakes, a rented canoe is all you need. Seattle's Lake Washington has migratory chinook, coho, and sockeye. Farther east, Lake Wenatchee also gets a sockeye run. In Idaho, Lake Coeur d'Alene harbors landlocked chinook up to 40 pounds.

With a small boat (your own or rented), fishing options include protected bays and river mouths in northern California, up the Oregon and Washington coasts (the Columbia is particularly noteworthy), into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, and inland waters of B.C. and Alaska. Ask about public boat ramps, water conditions, and safety factors.

Here are thw West's six major salmon-fishing areas, what you can expect, where to get details

Six fishing management areas mark the West Coast from California to Alaska. Here are details on each. For season information or to set up a guided trip, see "Information sources" at the end of this section.

Mexico to Shelter Cove, California

This southernmost salmon-fishing area boasts the West's longest ocean season (mid-February to mid-November). Fishing's best for 5- to 10-pound chinook early on-with another peak in July or August-on charters from Bay Area ports, Fort Bragg, and Monterey. In good years, fish are found as far south as Morro Bay and Avila Beach (best February to April).

Most river fishing is on the Sacramento and its tributaries (American, Feather); prime time is August through November.

Shelter Cove to Port Orford, Oregon

Season begins around Memorial Day for chinook averaging 10 pounds, trophies to 40 pounds. Go in June or early July, as limits and seasons may be curtailed later. A few charters, including sixpacks (see page 97), leave from Eureka, Trinidad, and Crescent City, California; and from Brookings, Oregon.

Bay fishing for chinook averaging 15 pounds is best at mouths of Klamath and Rogue rivers; August and September are peak times.

Best stream fishing is on these North Coast California rivers: Klamath (August through October), Trinity (September and October), Eel, Van Duzen, Mad, Smith (mainly October through December). In Oregon, the Rogue offers excellent driftboat fishing for spring chinook May through July and fall chinook September through November; try Chetco River in November. Port Orford to Cape Falcon, Oregon

This 300-mile stretch of coast claims Oregon's most stable season (Memorial Day to Labor Day), mainly for 8- to 11 -pound coho; leave from a dozen charter ports.

Bays like Coos, Yaquina, and Tillamook offer excellent small-boat fishing for coho and chinook when aquaculture or hatchery stocks return, September into November (also spring and summer at Coos Bay); for chinook to 70 pounds, try Tillamook Bay in October and November.

Best stream fishing for chinook is in the Elk and Sixes rivers (November and December); Umpqua, Siuslaw, Alsea, Siletz, Nestucca in early fall; Miami, Trask, Wilson, Kilchis, Nehalem (September through November),

Cape Falcon to Canada

The Pacific, Columbia River, Puget Sound, and Lake Washington offer a wide range of fishing.

Ocean season begins in July, lasting about six weeks (but regulatory changes that curtail fishing are likely). Chinook action peaks in July; for coho, try August. Main charter ports are Warrenton, Astoria, Ilwaco, Westport, Sekiu, Port Angeles.

Puget Sound (including San Juan Islands, Strait of Juan de Fuca) offers year-round fishing for both migratory (August) and "stay-at-home" salmon (early winter).

Standard and sixpack charters from Seattle, Edmonds, Kingston, Port Angeles, Anacortes. Marinas rent boats; launches and public fishing piers are numerous.

The Columbia River is a bright spot, with recent record returns of both fall chinook (over a half-million "upriver brights" in 1987, averaging 20 to 40 pounds) and coho (1-1/2 million in 1986). Action starts in midAugust at famous Buoy Ten on standard charters from river-mouth towns like Ilwaco and Astoria; season is short, so call ahead. Guided small boats from Hood River, White Salmon, and Kennewick, and do-ityourself anglers pursue runs upriver into October from boats and riverbanks.

Other good rivers, mainly on the Olympic Peninsula, peak September through November; for guides, call Forks Chamber of Commerce at (206) 374-2531.

Last summer, Seattle's Lake Washington saw a record sockeye run -sportsmen caught more than 100,000 fish (July and August are prime). Call Washington's Department of Fisheries (number at right) for season.

British Columbia

Salt-water angling is mostly year-round, 80 percent of it in Strait of Georgia (Victoria north to Campbell River). Chinook average 9 to 12 pounds, peak in July; coho average 5 pounds, peak in late August. Small-boat guides abound at lodges and fly-in camps; standard charters go from Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, In December, there's good fishing for resident chinook from Victoria, Sooke, and Nanaimo.

Best fishing is on central and north coasts of mainland, west coast of Vancouver Island, Queen Charlotte Islands. Chinook, averaging 20 to 30 pounds, peak in early August; coho, 12 to 18 pounds, peak in late August. River fishing is limited, but 70- to 90-pound chinook in Bella Coola, Skeena, and other streams entice anglers in early July.

Alaska

This is still the world's premier salmon sportfishery (mainly chinook and coho), but multitudes of streams, runs, peak times, charter boats, guides, and lodges defy easy summary. Best approach: study a guidebook such as How to Catch Alaska's Trophy Sport Fish, by Christopher Batin, then decide where to go and write to the state for detailed information on the area you choose.

Alaska is expensive charters run $125 to $200 a day, fishing lodges $300 a day,

Information sources

California. Fish & Game Department, Inland Fisheries, 1416 Ninth St., Sacramento 95814; (916) 445-823 1. No ocean hotline - try North Coast tackle shops; for inland rivers, call (707) 442-4502.

Golden Gate Fisherman's Association, Box 40, Sausalito 94966; (415) 348-2107.

Northern California Guides Association, Box 720397, Redding 96099; (916) 347-0535.

Oregon. Fish and Wildlife, Box 59, Portland 97207; (503) 229-5403.

Oregon Coast Charter Boat Association, Box 205, Waldport 97394; 563-3973.

Oregon Guides and Packers Association, Box 3797, Portland 97208; 234-3268.

Washington. Department of Fisheries, General Administration Building, Room 115, Olympia 98504; (206) 753-6600. Taped 24-hour report is updated hourly; call 976-3200 within the state, 753-9060 from elsewhere.

Washington State Charter Association, Box 1066, Westport 98595; 268-9485. Charter Boat Association of Puget Sound, 115 W. Dayton St., Edmonds 98020; 776-5611.

British Columbia. Department of Fisheries & Oceans, 555 W. Hastings St., Vancouver V6B 5G3; (604) 666-0419 or -0383. Taped hotline is (800) 663-9333 (in Canada only). Pacific Charter Sport Fishing Association, Pedder Bay Dr., R.R. 2, Victoria V9B 5B4; (604) 478-1771. For a free copy of the new Saltwater Fishing Guide, call B.C. Tourism at (800) 663-6000. Each year, the May issue of B.C Outdoors has fishing forecast; for a copy ($2.95), write to 1132 Hamilton St., Vancouver V6B 2S2; 687-1581.

Alaska. Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Box 32000, Juneau 99802; (907) 465-4180.

What's ahead for salmon? Let's look at two vital rivers, the Columbia and the Sacramento

At least two-thirds of the West's wild salmon have disappeared, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Human carelessness is the primary culprit. For a century, salmon were taken for granted when we wanted to build roads through watersheds, log forests that protected spawning grounds, dam rivers for power or divert them for irrigation, mine river gravel and industrialize estuaries, or extend suburbs across spawning streams. Salmon are gone from many streams. On others, like Idaho's Salmon River, oncemightyruns cling to a tenuous existence; a new hatchery is trying to boost returns. Hatcheries are important, but they're only part of the answer. Many flourish for a while, then fish returns mysteriously decline. Worse, hatcheries tend to lessen genetic diversity, and viral infections can devastate entire year-classes of fish.

Experts agree that the only real safeguard is to restore salmon's natural spawning grounds and stream dynamics. The word's getting out. A passionate commitment among citizens' groups is helping heal streams and restore fish runs. In the courts, salmon's needs for water have been recognized as equal to man's. Fisheries management is becoming more coordinated, and more government money is

being spent to help in the struggle.

Yet interest groups and public agencies often can't agree on what to do, on costs and benefits, even on salmon's economic value (estimates range at least into the high hundreds of millions).

Two vital Western salmon streams-the Columbia and the Sacramento reveal the dilemmas in combatting more than a century of abuse. Both are big rivers that have lost tremendous amounts of natural spawning grounds (95 percent on the Sacramento), and both depend heavily on hatcheries.

The Columbia: fish and power as equals Before white settlement, it's estimated that the Columbia teemed with 10 to 16 million returning fish a year; by the early 1980s, returns dipped under a million. Nearly a dozen dams on the Columbia (more on its tributaries) account for almost 75 percent of this annual loss, says the Northwest Power Planning Council.

This superagency was established in 1980 to help coordinate conservation efforts, and now the Columbia is inching toward a modest recovery. The 1980 Northwest Power Planning Act gave fish equal priority with power. The costs of rebuilding salmon losses are now passed on to rate payers who buy power from dams that have done the most harm,

Monies raised boost hatchery production, rehabilitate habitat, build fish ladders for upstream migration, and assist young salmon on their downstream journey by screening turbine intakes, fitting deflectors on spillways, spilling water in spring to speed young salmon downstream, and barging fish around some dams.

Certain runs have responded sharply, and total salmon from the Columbia increased to more than 4 million in 1988 from a five-year average of 2-1/2 million before 1982. Through regional planning, the council has set an interim goal of increasing production by another 2-1/2 million.

The 1985 U.S.-Canada Treaty allows more fish to get upriver to spawn. US. court decisions and agreements more fairly allocate salmon among fishermen, Indian tribes, and states.

Last year the "protected areas moratorium" called for a halt to dam building on 29,000 miles of stream in the Columbia Basin. Power agencies seem willing to cooperate. But work remains-building more dam bypasses, reclaiming spawning grounds, increasing spring spills, and researching hatchery diseases and fish mortality from barging them downstream.

The Sacramento: who gets the water?

The Sacramento once swelled with an estimated 2 to 3 million salmon. As recently as 1953, nearly a half-million fall chinook returned. After some bad years in the early 80s, the river has been producing around 200,000 fall chinook again, partly the result of rainy springs a few years ago. Biologists tell us that recent good returns have not changed underlying problems, which stem from too little water. With two years of drought (soon to become three) robbing streams of flow and pushing river temperatures up to levels lethal for salmon, can even more water be taken for cities and agriculture?

To answer that question, California's Water Resources Control Board resumed hearings in July 1987. Last fall, the board's staff recommended, among other things, upgrading protection for salmon by effectively freezing proposals for water diversions. Objections to this came from many communities and water districts. Metropolitan Water District ofSouthern California, for example, claimed that salmon populations on the Sacramento are now stable and that the needs of fish should be balanced against other uses of the river's water. In January the board's staff indefinitely postponcd hearings on these issues.

In separate action last fall, the legislature passed the Keene Bill, requiring Fish and Game to double the state's natural salmon production by the year 2000. The main challenges: restoring stream flow, river dynamics, and temperatures so salmon can spawn, grow, and travel the stream successfully; reclaiming lost spawning grounds; and screening some 300 irrigation pumps that draw young salmon from the river into fields.

Some past efforts to make up for spawning losses have resulted in colossal failure. Other work in progress shows promise, and the state will, soon spend up to $5 million a year on scores of streamhealing projects. Will that be enough?

The larger question is, Who should pay? "The taxpayers are now carrying the load," argues former U.S. Fish and Wildlife assistant regional director Fred Vincent. "Unlike the Columbia, current water contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation specifically forbid passing on costs to end users. The people who should be paying for mitigation are those who benefit from diverted river waters."

No matter how we finally pay for improvements on this troubled river, the Sacramento's dwindling populations of wild salmon must receive a minimum share of water in order to survive. A bigger share-and restoration of spawning habitat-may help them thrive again.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on salmon fishing on the West Coast
Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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