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Originally published Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 5:06 PM

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Plenty of good vibes fishing for salmon in 2012

The 2012 marine salmon fisheries will go down as a memorable one that was peppered with a few unexpected surprises.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The 2012 marine salmon fisheries will go down as a memorable one that was peppered with a few unexpected surprises.

I talked with local angling experts and state fisheries managers to get their point of view on the past fishing seasons, and the overwhelming consensus showed that all were highly satisfied.

"It was a really good year overall from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Puget Sound," said Steve Thiesfeld, the state Fish and Wildlife Puget Sound recreational salmon manager. "We had a lot of positive fisheries, and anyone who put in their time had a pretty successful year."

The initial good vibes began when the early summer ocean hatchery chinook fishery opened in June off Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay.

"The selective fishery (where anglers keep only hatchery-marked chinook and release wild fish) was the most incredible we've ever seen at Westport," said Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife coastal salmon resource manager.

"The charter boats were limiting right in front of Westport," said Milward. "The first week (June 9-16) it opened, anglers averaged 1 ½ chinook per rod (two chinook was a daily limit), and it never really slowed down."

That early coastal summer fishery generated 5,500 angler trips with 5,400 hatchery chinook.

Those fun times carried into the entire summer ocean salmon fishery, which remained very good right up until it closed in late September.

While the ocean was filled with chinook, the hatchery coho were difficult to come by as was expected by their mediocre forecasts.

"We did see a big hole for coho catches off Westport and Ilwaco, but it was hard to judge the coho returns since many anglers were keying in on the great chinook fishing," Milward said.

A-plus grade for Strait

The Strait of Juan de Fuca from Neah Bay to Sekiu, and from Port Angeles to Port Townsend witnessed a banner summer salmon fishing season from the time it opened July 1 until Oct. 31.

"Neah Bay had a great coho season, and Sekiu was amazing all summer for hatchery chinook and coho," Milward said. "The northeastern part of Puget Sound was just phenomenal for coho too."

The late September coho fishery off Sekiu also produced decent action, and the fun times continued in October for chinook between Sekiu and Port Angeles.

Puget Sound coho

Salmon anglers found decent action in the Strait, and that carried over as chinook and coho began migrating into northern and central Puget Sound (Marine Catch Areas 9 and 10) when it opened July 16.

"We had solid catch rates for hatchery chinook in the 9 and 10 summer fisheries," Thiesfeld said. "In fact the hatchery king catch was so good we had to close it (12 days earlier than scheduled), but the unusual event was the coho showed up in mid-August."

The early arrival of coho into Puget Sound created some surprisingly excellent fishing that lasted well into October from the west side of Whidbey Island down to the Seattle area.

"It certainly was an extremely positive salmon season from the get-go all the way to the end," said Gary Krein, owner of All-Star Charters in Everett who has been guiding on Puget Sound since 1984.

"The golden egg was we transitioned instantly from an excellent hatchery king fishery right into a remarkable coho season," Krein said. "The coho actually surprised all of us and was the best we've seen going back at least 15 or 20 years."

Banner winter fishery

The good times kept on rolling right into the winter chinook season in open areas of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands.

"The final fishing chapter is the winter chinook fishery, and we've seen some really good things happen in November and December around Puget Sound and San Juan Islands," said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association who has spent a lifetime plying the waters of Washington. "We could be so lucky to have such fantastic survival rates, and hopefully this will carry into 2013."

Sockeye boon in 2012

"The Baker Lake and Skagit River summer sockeye fisheries were extremely successful," Thiesfeld said. "That was an unexpected bonus, and the size of that run was good. It provided an opportunity for bank anglers that are the forgotten group at times."

While the Lake Washington sockeye return waxed expectations, it fell short of providing any kind of fisheries, but the actual return was 145,815 compared to a preseason forecast of 45,871. At least 350,000 sockeye are needed before any fisheries are considered. The Cedar River sockeye egg take was close to 20 million, and with good survival there is hope a Lake Washington fishery could happen in 2016.

Down south, the Columbia River sockeye return at Bonneville Dam was a whopping 515,700 compared to a forecast of 462,000.

This record return provided excellent catches in many parts of the Columbia River, and clear up into Lake Wenatchee where more than 46,000 had migrated.

A glimpse into 2013

The early outlook for upcoming salmon seasons could be robust in some areas.

The bonus of what has become an excellent pink salmon fishery during odd-numbered years can only add to the excitement in 2013.

The Columbia upriver spring chinook forecast in 2013 is 141,400 compared to a forecast of 314,200 and an actual return of 203,100 last year. These fish are destined for areas above Bonneville Dam and the Snake River.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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