WESTPORT — All day long Daniel Ybarra of Long Beach — the Southern California one — had waited patient while others hooked their prized Chinook salmon all around him.
Suddenly, the call came in from the Deep Sea Charters boat captain that it was the last cast of the day at about the same time Ybarra’s fish hit and changed his entire trip.
“It was the last fish. The last 30 minutes of fishing was awesome,” Ybarra beamed as he waited to weigh his prize. “I had one bite before this one, but it was a small one and I lost him. When this one hit, it was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got a monster on the end!’ ”
At 21 pounds, six ounces, in what is called its dressed weight after it has been gutted, the Ybarra Chinook was about twice as big as the only other weighed Chinook catch of the day as measured outside the Westport Charterboat’s dock-side office and weigh station.
The summer recreational ocean salmon season is off to one of the best starts in recent years and boats are finding fish not far from shore and in abundance. For this time of the year, they also are running fairly big, said Larry Giese, owner of Deep Sea Charters across from Float 6.
The numbers of anglers, too, are growing steadily as news starts getting out about the hot fishing.
“It’s just going to keep growing from now until the second week in August,” Giese said.
Doug Milward, ocean salmon manager for the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, said the season got off to a great start and that most catches are within about a mile from shore in 30 to 70 feet of water.
There are enough fish this year that there will be no cutbacks or likely curtailments in the season.
In the last several years, Milward said, there have been seasons when the Chinook return was strong and the coho numbers were down, nearly the opposite of what’s being seen now, with high numbers of coho expected to follow on the heels of a robust Chinook run.
Recreational ocean salmon fisheries for both Chinook and hatchery coho began June 24 in Marine Area 2, which is from Leadbetter Point to the Queets River. Anglers fishing in that area are allowed to retain one Chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit, and fishing is open Sundays through Thursdays.
The most recent tally by Fish & Wildlife found a total of 1,997 anglers were out in the Westport area during the week of June 18-23, landing 1,493 marked Chinook. A total of 639 anglers participated in the all-species salmon fishery on June 24, landing 534 Chinook and 19 coho.
Giese said most of his boats are fishing south of the South Jetty in about 70 feet of water, and another hot area appears to be off the Quinault Beach Resort & Casino near Ocean Shores.
June typically is a slow month for the charter boats, but both Giese and Mark Cedergreen, executive director of the Wesport Charterboat Association, said it could be the best June in recent memory.
The June 9 opener for hatchery-marked Chinook, Cedergreen reported, was likely the best in the three years for the selective fishery.
“The bookings for July and August look pretty good, so, all-in-all, it’s going to be a good season,”added Giese, who has operated his business since 1996.
Also looming will be the first opening of Chinook fishing since 2007 inside Grays Harbor. Anglers fishing Grays Harbor will be allowed to retain Chinook salmon from Sept. 16 through Oct. 7, with a bag limit of three salmon, only one of which can be a Chinook.
“There will be something like 14,000 Chinook,” Giese said.
“I think you are going to to see more activity from the charter boat fleet in that fishery this year,” Cedergreen said. “There are three weeks then when we can keep Chinook and there is a record number of coho coming back to Grays Harbor, along with a three fish limit. I think we’ll see some kind of activity that we haven’t seen in a long time on the inside fishery.”
The Westport-based charter fleet is now about 30 boats, which is a number that has been fairly steady for the past 10 years. While salmon fishing is the bread and butter of the charter business, bottom fishing for rockfish and lingcod runs from March to October, and boats go out seven days a week. There is a brief May fishery for halibut, which was a five-day event this year. Then from the first of August to the end of September is what Cedergreen called “prime time” for tuna.
“We have a banquet of different types of fisheries,” Cedergreen said. “It’s a smorgasbord of opportunity and guys who are rigged and capable of doing every one of those fisheries always have something to rely on.”
For now, the Chinook are abundant in the ocean and the Westport charters and boat ramps are seeing increasing traffic.
“We had to work for them today, but you pay for the experience and not the fish,” said a satisfied Frank Devine of Aberdeen, who was out for his fifth time this season. His fishing partner, Chris Carter, was out for his third time.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Devine said. “There’s nothing like taking one home.”
Ybarra has been fishing with friends at Westport three times now, and he’s always come back with salmon.
“I’ve been blessed because each time I’ve come up I’ve caught fish,” he said.