The Futures Bright For Coos Bay Deepsea Bottom Fishing

Just like the lyrics 1980’s pop song, “Futures So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”, the future of “bottom fish” can be described like this; things are going great and they are only getting better (can you hear the harmonica blaring in the background?). Increased bag limits, extended seasons, and relaxed regulation all bode well for the recreational offshore angler in Oregon. It wasn’t like this for bottom fishing in the not so distant past. Unregulated commercial fishing and a poor understanding of the fishes biology nearly wiped out entire populations of bottom fish. Now with strict management, a healthy ocean, and better science the sport fishing off the Oregon coast has returned to being a world class destination for fishing.

If your not a local and accustomed to the local slang you might be wondering what exactly is a bottom fish? A “bottom fish” is a broad and somewhat dull term used to describe a multitude of fish species found near the Pacific coastline. These nearshore species include rockfish, lingcod, halibut, and sculpins. Some species of rockfish are vibrantly colored, and are anything but dull! A great example of this beauty would be the Tiger Rockfish, aptly named for its brilliant orange body and black tiger like vertical stripes, any angler would be stunned to see this appear at the end of his line. These fish species typically orient to geographic features associated with bottom structure, hence the name bottom fish. Rock,mud,sand are all habitats that “bottom fish” inhabit off the coast of Oregon. Most of these fish species occur in the nearshore and continental slope habitat within 5 miles of the coast. Depths that fish occupy include very shallow to depths unreachable with traditional fishing tackle. Most of the recreational fishing off the Oregon coast for bottom fish is done in depths from 50 feet to 300 feet out of ports that have rocky reefs nearby and are easily reached by small recreational fishing boats. The Port of Charleston happens to be located in one of these prime locations in Oregon to catch bottom fish. The port has a safe deep bar crossing, cozy accommodations for overnight travelers, and world class charter fishing services.

Many local and travelling anglers choose to go with charter fishing guides to benefit from the local knowledge that these fisherman have earned through years of experience on the fishing grounds. Charter boat captains must prove there knowledge to the US Coastguard through rigerous examination prior to being allowed to take passengers out to fish on the sea.  The bottom fishing trips are usually offered year round with the months of May-September being the calmest seas. After a short 30 minute ride to the reef anglers can expect to catch limits of rockfish in the 2 lbs. to 5 lbs. class, lingcod upto 40 lbs., and halibut upto 125 lbs. Fishing in Oregon rivals any experience you might have had in Alaska, and is second to none in my opinion. The daily bag limits for fish are always changing but as of this year we can keep 7 rockfish, two lingcod on the typical bottom fishing trip. These strict limits help protect the fishery for future generations and quality of fishing. However the take home of fish is quite generous and equates to on average 10-15 lbs. of fillets, perfect for making fish and chips for upto 30 of your hungriest friends.

So if your ready for an adventure or just want some really good eats consider going bottom fishing on your next vacation. Its not the lowly fish that its name implies. It should be called “action fishing” because that is what you will have fishing out of Charleston, Oregon! Its a fishing experience for the whole family on the Oregon Coast.

Coos Bay 2017 Salmon Season Forecast

Its been a long, wet, and cold winter here in Southern Oregon. I have had enough of it and am ready for Spring. The days are getting longer, and I want to be outside without a raincoat! If you want to talk salmon predictions than a discussion on El Nino/La Nina must happen, and is the basis of my prediction for this season and the future of salmon. Its official according to the scientists at NOAA that in the Pacific Northwest we are in a La Nina phase this winter for the first time in many years. Its been 5 months in a row now that the average seas surface temperature in the Southern Pacific Ocean has been at least .5 degree below average. When this decrease in temperature occurs the National Weather Service can declare it an official La Nina winter. Yeh! To many of us this isn’t a surprise considering how high the power bills have been! What weather is expected this spring and summer is what I want to know. After doing a bit more research at NOAA Weather, and reading the blogs, I am able to summarize to you that this time of the year  forecast models for El Nino/La Nina are not very reliable. However, it seems that forecast models are predicting a weak El Nino to develop or a near neutral phase for the average ocean temperatures this spring and summer.

When it comes to fishing in general, I am a hopeless optimist and the current El Nino/La Nina neutral forecast I find a  relief. I like tuna fishing and warmer El Nino ocean temperatures bring tuna close to shore. This season expect to see hard temperature breaks offshore 20-40 miles, and cooler average temperatures near shore. Its a relief to see that El Nino wont likely develop into a strong event this season which in general is harmful to growing salmon and groundfish species that prefer cooler nutrient rich waters and the plankton that thrive in it. This winter has seen more snow on the west coast mountain ranges then in previous years and thus many rivers have flooded or been sustained high on average. For me this is a sign of good things that may be coming for salmon and steelhead in  3 to 4 years. This winter is the beginning of a positive cycle for our salmon populations on the west coast and should be celebrated. As I sit here in my office at Sharky’s Charters, watching the rain come down in buckets, my thoughts drift towards the ocean and the possibility that chinook salmon are hunting the nearshore reefs searching for a meal. Its spring after all and the traditional kick off to King Salmon season. I don’t think that I am alone in my thoughts of twirling flashers and gold plated salmon spoons. Sport ocean chinook salmon season just opened on March 15, and while they are quite safe from me and my brethren on this blustery day it wont be long until the wind dies down and we head out to search for them. So what’s out there according to scientists?

As I mentioned earlier I am a hopeless optimist, but reality hit hard when I started reading Preseason Report I, just released in March. This preseason forecast, is in essence the best guess on the current numbers of salmon swimming off the west coast. The guess is supported by lots of math and statistics, and is usually pretty close in predicting the salmon populations. Preseason Report I is issued by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to aid in the setting of the salmon fishing season, and to insure that to much fishing pressure is exerted on salmon populations by sport and commercial fisherman. After reading the document I can tell you this chinook season is going to be a lot like last season for the sport fisherman.Drought, El Nino, and the poor conditions for salmon that accompany them have taken a high toll on the southern and mid coast stocks of chinook and Coho salmon that Oregonians and Californians love to fish. Not many salmon in the ocean, but just enough to let us fish for them in most of Oregon’s coastal waters. The Sacramento River stocks, which drive most of the fishery off the coast of Oregon, are in only fair shape and small shadow of their former population. They however wont restrict our sport ocean fishery.The fact is that if sport fisherman were better at catching the chinook it would have restricted us also but the gear we use has a hard time fishing the depths that most chinook cruise in during the summer. The sad news is that the Klamath River, another huge contributor to our chinook fishery, is likely going to experience the worst return of chinook in recorded history. What a sad day it is for me to have to bring this news to my fellow anglers. It had better be a real eye-opener for the water managers and politicians that control the water and dams on the Klamath. This will likely result in complete closure of the commercial season in Oregon south of Florence. It will also likely result in a very small opening for ocean chinook off Brookings and Gold Beach in the summer months.

Our local river and bays will experience similar low chinook returns that we saw last season. There will be some good fishing in early September but it will diminish quickly as the fish move into tidewater. Keeping track of there movement in the bay and tidewater will really be key to having more success in this down season. . According to ODFW there were lots of chinook jacks in Coos Bay in 2016.Expect many three year old fish and fewer four year olds.

Coho salmon population predictions are similar to last year and thus we should see a season structure similar. I expect no Coho salmon fisheries in Oregon bays, but a limited ocean season beginning in late June for marked fish, and then a late season for unmarked fish in September.

Not the rosy forecast I was hoping to give you but its the truth and that’s what I report. So before you go and put your ocean salmon gear away for the season or put it for sale cheep on Craigslist,  I would like to leave you with this thought. While there may not be easy pickings for salmon up and down the coast I will predict that a lucky port will see the majority of the salmon. It was my home port Coos Bay that saw this phenomenon about four years ago and Newport’s fleet saw this last year. The fish will be in the best ocean conditions where the bait is, and if that happens to be in your port you will be in for a great season of ocean salmon fishing. Keep an eye on the SST and the Chlorophyll charts. The cooler nearshore water temperatures will get the fish feeding closer to the surface and thus in range of our lighter sport gear. The only way to find out if the salmon are on your near shore reefs this spring is to get out and give it a troll! See you out there I hope, and if your looking for an ocean charter for salmon give me a call at (541) 260-9110.