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Sturgeon resurgence: Fishing heats up as six-day season provides a ‘shot in the arm’ for local business

By Luke Whittaker

lwhittaker@crbizjournal.com

Published on June 13, 2017 4:59PM

Customers posed for a photo with their catch after a successful trip on Monday, June 12.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

Customers posed for a photo with their catch after a successful trip on Monday, June 12.

David Gudgell, skipper for Pacific Salmon Charters, held a 46” sturgeon caught Saturday, June 10. The allowable retention range was 44 to 50 inches.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

David Gudgell, skipper for Pacific Salmon Charters, held a 46” sturgeon caught Saturday, June 10. The allowable retention range was 44 to 50 inches.

More than a 100 sturgeon were brought to the Sportsmen’s Cannery at the Port of Ilwaco for processing during the first three days of the brief ongoing sturgeon season.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

More than a 100 sturgeon were brought to the Sportsmen’s Cannery at the Port of Ilwaco for processing during the first three days of the brief ongoing sturgeon season.

An officer from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife checked the length of six keeper sturgeon Monday, June 12, at the Port of Ilwaco.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

An officer from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife checked the length of six keeper sturgeon Monday, June 12, at the Port of Ilwaco.

The six-day sturgeon season has been a boon for local charter businesses. Hotels have also seen a rise in stays as a result of the season.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

The six-day sturgeon season has been a boon for local charter businesses. Hotels have also seen a rise in stays as a result of the season.

Deckhand Kendra Koskiniemi prepared the rods and bait as the F/V West Wind left the Port of Ilwaco during a sturgeon charter trip on Saturday, June 10.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

Deckhand Kendra Koskiniemi prepared the rods and bait as the F/V West Wind left the Port of Ilwaco during a sturgeon charter trip on Saturday, June 10.

By Saturday, June 10, the third day of the six-day sturgeon season, fishing pressure was concentrated near  Astoria-Megler Bridge.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

By Saturday, June 10, the third day of the six-day sturgeon season, fishing pressure was concentrated near Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Skipper David Gudgell posed with a keeper sturgeon caught by a customer on Saturday, June 10.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

Skipper David Gudgell posed with a keeper sturgeon caught by a customer on Saturday, June 10.

An officer from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife tallied the sturgeon catch Monday, June 12 at the Port of Ilwaco.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

An officer from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife tallied the sturgeon catch Monday, June 12 at the Port of Ilwaco.

Skipper David Gudgell watched customers reel in several sturgeon aboard the F/V West Wind on Saturday, June 10.

LUKE WHITTAKER/Chinook Observer

Skipper David Gudgell watched customers reel in several sturgeon aboard the F/V West Wind on Saturday, June 10.


PENINSULA — It’s been a brisk bump in business during a typically a slow time; rooms filled that would have otherwise sat empty, and a couple extra days of work for crews. The announcement of a six-day white sturgeon season — the first in three years on the Lower Columbia — has spurred an economic chain reaction that’s reverberated through the Peninsula since the announcement on Thursday, June 1.


‘They came from all over’


The four days of fishing so far have been a “shot-in-the arm” for local businesses, particularly those still reeling from a sluggish spring season. Beginning Monday, June 5, the first day of the retention season, people from all over Washington and Oregon poured into the Port of Ilwaco seeking a chance to pull in a prehistoric fish. Hotels along the Peninsula reported an uptick in room stays, most notably during the week. At the Best Western in downtown Long Beach, sturgeon anglers were responsible for snagging up to 10 rooms a night during the week at a time when traditionally most rooms go unfilled.

“They came from all over,” Best Western General Manager Lindsay Carlston said regarding the mid-week surge in bookings.

“And most of our bookings have been for the middle of the week, which is unusual for us — it’s not our typical busy time,” Carlston said.

The season was staggered to allow fishing days to fall on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays during a two-week period between June 5 and Saturday, June 17. The breaks in between fishing days made planning easier for charters by concentrating the fishermen, many of whom called several days in advance to secure spots on the allotted days.

“We were watching for the opener to happen and had the phone on speed dial,” said Olympia resident Brad Roberts. “We booked the day it was announced.” Roberts was able to secure a seat along with his wife, and 9-year-old son, Hunter, his first sturgeon trip on Monday, June 12. They each caught sturgeon, but it was Hunter who ended up catching the biggest keeper on the entire boat.

“It was up to my eyes!” Hunter said, regarding his 49-inch catch. The narrow retention window, from 44 to 50 inches, ensured that a majority of the sturgeon caught were released.

“We caught seven or eight that were oversized,” said Rusty Neely, who was fishing with brothers Bob and Ray Mathes. The trio ended up catching two keeper-sized fish that they planned to have smoked and canned. Anglers appreciated just having the chance to fish for “keepers.”

“I’ve been waiting three years for this,” said Rich Jakel, a retired commercial fishermen who was with his son Jarrod aboard the F/V West Wind on Saturday, June 10. The father and son made the two-hour drive from Woodland on a whim after the surprise announcement that there would be a season.

“I was truly shocked,” Jakel said.


‘It saved our June’


The sturgeon season — albeit just six days — provided a crucial boost for charter fleets during what is considered a slow stretch before the much-anticipated salmon season scheduled to start on June 24.

“We have four boats out today and normally we wouldn’t have anything going on,” said Pat Schenk, co-owner of Sea Breeze Charters on Monday, June 12.

“Last year we had boats that never took a trip in June. It’s giving everybody a shot in the arm that we didn’t have before. It was needed. It doesn’t seem like much, but getting some of it back, even six days. It’s been a huge impact,” explained Schenk, who said the sturgeon fishery once accounted for 40 percent of their business. The short season has been a blessing for the fleets.

“It saved our June,” said Victoria Schenk.

Kevin Ward said he would probably be playing poker if it weren’t for the sturgeon season. But the Sportsmen’s Cannery co-owner wasn’t complaining. He was rejoicing the unexpected boost in business brought upon by the surprise season. The extra work meant Ward could keep his crew of four busy cleaning, vacuum packing, smoking and canning sturgeon for customers at their Port of Ilwaco cannery. In the first three days of fishing, customers brought in more than 100 sturgeon for processing.

“We’ve gotten a lot of smoked sturgeon orders this year,” Ward said noting that the smoking and canning process earns the business $24 more per fish compared to traditional filleting. As more fish are brought in, Ward is hopeful the 3,000-fish harvest quota isn’t met early.

“There’s only two more days — hopefully it will last that long,” he said.















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