Westport Report: Warm water driving salmon into shallow water

Chinook continue to migrate past us in a series of smaller schools as we move into late-August and they’re hugging the beach. We haven’t experienced salmon in this shallow of water in recent years.

Here’s a theory, though: the water inshore is cold, almost too cold for salmon during windy periods. But offshore, just a little over 5 miles or so, the water is almost “tropical” and salmon shy away from that. Clear blue and over 60 degrees in temperature with an assortment of warmer water critters, including mackerel and Mola mola. Albacore tuna are being caught not much further out in similar water.

So what’s a Mola mola? Mola is Latin for “millstone.” Mola mola — better known as the ocean sunfish — are circular in shape and resemble a millstone, thus the name. They can weigh up to 5,000 pounds and, lying flat, cover an area of up to 140 square feet. Most of those we see out here are in the 100 to 300 pound range. They like to bask in the sun on the surface. And their eyes appear somewhat bovine. Sort of eerie, I think!

Well, back to fishing. Through Aug. 12, our Chinook catch has reached 9,564 out of a Westport guideline of 25,600. Although this is behind where we expected to be by now, the Columbia River area is well ahead of their typical trend. Fishery managers believe that there are more than enough left in the overall quota to cover all areas and, in response to that, raised the Chinook bag limit to two on Friday. Coho catching remains very slow. Most anglers are concentrating on Chinook. The coho are further offshore. However, about 70 percent of the coho encountered are not marked and cannot be kept. This could be an indication that the huge Grays Harbor natural run prediction this year is accurate. We’ll know for sure in late September.

Albacore tuna fishing is in full swing. The fish are within 40-45 miles and biting very well. As usual, offshore winds dampen effort and catch at times but overall it looks to be a very good year for tuna. The Washington Tuna Classic was held in Westport last Saturday and was deemed a great success. More than twice as many vessels participated than in 2011 with a result of around 10,000 pounds of tuna donated to Northwest Harvest and our local food bank. Fifteen members of Wounded Warriors participated in the catching.

Derby leaders in the lingcod (35-5), halibut (117) and albacore tuna (32-14) categories remain unchanged from our last report. However, we have a new leading Chinook weighing in at 32-9 dressed (about 38 in the round). That King was landed by Thomas Hawyer of Puyallup on Aug. 5. We have a new leading coho weighing in at 12-5 dressed (over 14 in the round). That critter was caught by James Whittet of Ketchum, Idaho, on Aug. 14.

Mark Cedergreen is the CEO of the Westport Charterboat Association. For more information, visit its website at www.charterwestport.com.