Ocean anglers will experience a sea-change in fishing opportunities beginning this weekend with the addition of a short chinook salmon season as well as expanded bottomfishing rules.
The annual "bubble" fishery off the mouth of the Chetco River begins Saturday, Oct. 1, and runs for 12 days, while bottomfishers will see their near-shore fishing restrictions eased so they can now ply for black and blue rockfish at all depths.
Also, near-shore Pacific halibut fishers can catch and keep rockfish, a one-two punch that has not been legal all year.
The bottomfish changes come because anglers have done a good job of steering clear of the incidental catching and killing of yelloweye rockfish, a deepwater species considered over-fished and whose numbers drive Oregon's recreational and commercial rockfish seasons.
Anglers fishing for black and blue rockfish have been relegated to fishing inside the 20-fathom line since July 1 to keep away from yelloweyes.
"Yelloweye are a deep-water species, so if you're fishing inside 20 fathoms, you're almost never going to encounter them," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Marine Resources Program based in Newport.
"And the chances of yelloweyes surviving when you do release them is higher because they don't suffer that barotrauma," Ford says.
The result is enough yelloweye poundage exists in the incidental catch quota — the acceptable amount of yelloweyes incidentally caught and released, but which die from barotrauma — that the rockfish seasons can be extended, Ford says.
Last year, the yelloweye and rockfish catches were high enough that ocean anglers were kept inside the 20-fathom curve from late July through December.
But this year's catches are not only light enough on yelloweye and black rockfish to keep the rockfish limit at seven per day, the season likely will not be closed this fall.
Port creel surveys show that ocean sport anglers have caught only about two-thirds of their black rockfish quota this year, with the final three months some of the slower fishing times.
The problem, Ford says, is plenty of fishing but not a lot of catching.
"They've been off the bite for a good part of the summer," Ford says. "The catches are down, but nobody knows why.
"It's got to be something with our ocean conditions because the little buggers are out there," Ford says.
The big buggers — chinook — are the target for anglers out of Brookings.
The ocean chinook season off the Chetco mouth is often referred to as a "bubble" fishery because the map of the open water forms a bubble-like shroud around the river mouth. The fishery targets big adult chinook headed up the Chetco to spawn this fall.
The limit is one chinook a day and five per season.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.