Ocean chinook season looks to be a boon for anglers

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"Troll slowly and troll deep." That'll be the mantra for Southern Oregon's ocean chinook anglers from May into September, when the recreational ocean fleet gets to enjoy the most liberal chinook season seen in decades.

Anglers will be setting their downriggers at 150 feet or deeper off Southern Oregon beginning May 1 and they won't pull them shallow until the season ends Sept. 9 in waters from Humbug Mountain near Port Orford south to the California border.

That's more than a full summer of chinook trolling off Southern Oregon as ordered earlier this month by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which governs waters more than three miles offshore.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to adopt the same season format today when it meets in Salem.

The season includes a two-fish daily limit per person and incorporates the three summer holiday weekends: Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

The summer salmon season also includes an opportunity to catch and keep fin-clipped hatchery coho along virtually the entire Oregon Coast from July 1-31, or until 8,000 coho are caught.

The liberal chinook season is possible because more than 1.6 million chinook are estimated to be headed toward Northern California's Klamath River, the highest number in more than 30 years.

Southern Oregon and part of Northern California make up the PFMC's Klamath Management Zone. Fishing seasons in that zone are set largely to ensure that 36,000 chinook escape sport and commercial fisheries to spawn in the Klamath basin annually.

More Klamath fish in the ocean means more fishing opportunities for everybody, because those Klamath chinook commingle offshore with salmon headed for other rivers.

As many as 1.56 million of those Klamath-bound chinook are 3-year-old fish that will weigh anywhere from 8 pounds to about 14 pounds — not the 30-plus pounders often sought, but still excellent fish for summer barbecues.

Of course, it doesn't matter how many fish are out there if you don't know how to catch them.

Chinook off Brookings tend to stay near the bottom in water less than 27 fathoms (or 162 feet) deep; and they tend to prefer deep, near-shore waters and reefs. They also tend to swim more slowly than coho.

To target chinook, use large, 6-inch anchovies or herring and run them a few feet off the bottom along near-shore reefs. Trolling is best at extremely slow speeds, usually as slow as the boat will go without stalling.

Those targeting coho tend to focus more on waters four to five miles off Brookings. Coho feed in the top half of the water column, so their depths can vary widely.

The trick during coho season is to luck out and catch fin-clipped hatchery fish because wild fish (those with adipose fins on the small of their backs) must be released unharmed.

To release wild coho effectively, handle them as little as possible, try to keep them in the water and — this might sound a bit too obvious — don't use a gaffe or stick your fingers in their gills.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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