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Coho late arriving, but seem to be on the way

 August 25, 2005,  BILL MONROE

Oregon salmon managers have an anxious eye on the ocean, waiting like parents at midnight for the fall coho to come home.

The fish certainly missed their summer curfew, when only 3,600 of a 40,000 quota of adult hatchery coho were landed along the central Oregon Coast before the coho season ended July 31. In response, anglers switched to chinook south of Cape Falcon.

Early summer was marked by a lack of north winds plus warm ocean waters with so few baitfish that large numbers of coastal birds starved to death.

But there are a few hopeful signs on the horizon, albeit anecdotal, biologists say. Late last week some anglers out of Depoe Bay, who were targeting chinook salmon nearly 10 miles from shore, caught their limits after releasing more than two dozen fat hatchery coho. A charter skipper out of Newport this week told Eric Schindler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that his customers released numerous coho during a chinook trip off Waldport. A sport boat fishing for tuna out of Nehalem reported coho biting trolled tuna jigs about 25 miles west of the coastline. Coho fishing remains good off the mouth of the Columbia River, with the best fishing south of the river entrance, off the deadline at Tillamook Head. The first coho started showing Wednesday in catches in the estuary, where the season's best bite yet had nets waving most of the morning off the river's Washington shoreline.

"I talked to a commercial fisherman the other day who said he's seen this before," said Schindler, who runs the department's ocean sampling efforts. "He said he's seen coho schooled 50-60 miles out during warmwater years. This is such a screwy season I don't know what to make of it."

Schindler's creel checkers, meanwhile, report about the usual handling rate of coho-per-chinook among the anglers they talk with, although it was relatively high out of Garibaldi, Pacific City and Depoe Bay last week.

"The latest reports at least make me hopeful we've got what we predicted," Schindler said.

Curt Melcher, the department's salmon harvest manager, said the coho biting in the ocean off Tillamook Head and Seaside are large, ranging up to 12-15 pounds.

"They're not little El Nino rags," he said.

Meanwhile, back at the dam: Melcher said this year's fall chinook and summer steelhead counts at Bonneville Dam are tracking preseason predictions.

Tuesday totals at the dam were 15,000 chinook (621,000 predicted) and 179,000 steelhead (309,000).

One more river gill-net season will occur tonight until 7 a.m. Friday from the dam to St. Helens. After that, commercial fishing in the lower river is suspended until late September.

Quail hunt expanded: September quail hunting, usually limited to mountain quail, will be expanded to include California (often called "valley") quail when the season opens Sept. 1 west of the Cascades.

Dave Budeau, the upland bird biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state Fish and Wildlife Commission decided last fall to take advantage of excellent quail numbers throughout Oregon.

Hunters in Western Oregon can mix mountain and California quail in the daily limit of 10 birds.

California quail hunting opens Oct. 8 throughout Eastern Oregon, and for the first time in decades mountain quail will become legal the same day in Grant, Umatilla, Morrow, Wheeler and Gilliam counties. They will join Klamath and Wallowa counties, which also were open last year.

The mountain quail limit in the East is two birds daily and is in addition to the California daily limit.

Bill Monroe: 503-221-8231; billmonroe@news.oregonian.com




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