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Chinook season a go

Federal fish managers split the baby for ocean salmon fishing this year off the Southern Oregon Coast, taking a middle-of-the-road option that has fewer early-season fishing days than anglers sought.

However, the season adopted Thursday by the Pacific Fishery Management Council still front-loads fishing days in mid-June and July when catches have been best in recent years out of Brookings, which is the favored port of Rogue Valley anglers and historically one of the top chinook salmon ports for recreational anglers in Oregon.

The council’s decision represents the best possible chinook season for South Coast anglers, because it offers solid fishing options for June, even though those fishing days lead to the highest catches of Klamath River-bound chinook off the Southern Oregon coast.

Klamath chinook are the weakest stock of chinook headed to Southern Oregon and Northern California rivers. They are collectively managed to protect the weakest stock, since they all mill in the ocean together and cannot easily be differentiated by anglers.

“In reality, this is pretty much what we wanted,” said Richard Heap, a Brookings man who chairs this year’s salmon advisory subpanel for the PFMC.

The off-shore season, however, will be dominated by fishing for fin-clippped hatchery coho salmon, which are forecast to dominate the near-shore waters off Oregon this year.

As adopted by the PFMC, the recreational season for chinook will open June 19 and run uninterrupted through Aug. 15, with a two-salmon daily limit.

The adopted season is more liberal than the most restrictive option the PFMC considered for waters from Humbug Mountain near Port Orford to the California border.

The council opted against starting the recreational chinook season as late as July 1 this year.

This year’s season is similar to last year, except it starts one week later and runs one week longer for chinook, the largest of Oregon-bound salmon and the top delicacy of the recreational fleet.

While chinook are king among Brookings-based salmon devotees, this year’s season on fin-clipped hatchery coho salmon could dominate catches and interest off Brookings and Gold Beach.

The Oregon Coast has a fin-clipped hatchery coho salmon quota of 120,000 fish this year, and South Coast ports will get their fill.

The coho season off Southern Oregon begins June 12 and runs through Aug. 28 as long as the quota is not filled.

“Honestly, those are going to be pretty small fish,” Heap says of the coho now in the ocean. “But they’ll grow about a pound a week.”

The large bump in hatchery coho off the Oregon Coast is the first sign of the return of more salmon-friendly ocean conditions. Hatchery coho typically are the first to rebound because the majority of them return to fresh water at age 3, while chinook runs are dominated by fish that spend 1 or 2 years more in the ocean.

During chinook season, the daily limit will be two salmon of either species. When chinook fishing is barred, the limit will be two fin-clipped coho per day.

Those who venture to Coos Bay, Winchester Bay or other Central Oregon Coast ports will see even a more liberal season. The chinook salmon fishery there opened March 15 and runs through Oct. 31. The marked hatchery coho season opens June 12 and runs through Aug. 28, unless the quota is filled before that date.

With a south-facing bar on the Chetco River, Brookings has the most passable days of any bar on the Oregon Coast, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Known for a rough bar and wind, the Gold Beach bar at the mouth of the Rogue River is less ocean-friendly to anglers.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Left: Frank Castro, left, and Del Baumbach land a chinook Wednesday while trolling with anchovies out of Brookings-Harbor. Above: Fishermen battle a salmon Wednesday in choppy seas off the Southern Oregon Coast.