ILWACO — Ocean salmon season opened over the weekend with eager fishermen and fast and frequent limits.

The fishing got off to a strong start Saturday, June 20, the first official day of the recreational ocean salmon fishing season, with local charter vessels reporting early limits, some before 10 a.m.

“It was a great first day,” said Coho Charters skipper AJ Smith, who returned to port with five customers limited on Chinook in only a few hours of fishing on the Coho Mooch.

“I’m always nervous on the first day because we don’t have everything honed in and know where they’re at, but we got lucky today and found them and had good fishermen. It was the perfect storm of good things,” Smith said.

Chinook up, coho down

The recreational catch quotas for 2020 are 26,360 Chinook and 26,500 marked coho, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Chinook quota is up slightly from 2019, but the coho quota is substantially lower than 2019. The season began with a Chinook-only fishery on Saturday with a one-salmon daily limit for all areas June 20-28. Coho may not be retained during this period. Beginning June 29, daily limits increase to two salmon per angler in all areas, and unmarked coho must be released.

“We had a great, busy first weekend on the water,” said Wendy Beeghley, a fishery manager with WDFW in press release Monday, June 21.

The strict early-season limit of one Chinook didn’t dissuade determined fishermen, including some who drove several hours in anticipation of the opener.

“I love catching kings. They hit so weird but once they’re on they’re just big and fierce,” said Matt Bouleen, of Leavenworth, one of five customers aboard the Coho Mooch on opening day. Bouleen, who works seasonally as a bartender, toasted each Chinook caught by cracking a fresh beer, including one for his own roughly 20-pound keeper, among the biggest on the boat.

The relatively hot fishing on Saturday didn’t maintain all weekend as fewer limits were reported on Sunday.

“It was a great opening day but it slowed down the next day (Sunday),” said Pacific Salmon Charters owner Milt Gudgell. Seabreeze Charters reported similar results, a strong Saturday followed by a sluggish Sunday. Both charters reported bottom fishing has remained productive, particularly for rockfish.

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