Silver Bonanza on the coast

G.I Wilson (second from right) with some of his pals catching silver salmon out of Depoe Bay (Submitted).

Silver salmon (aka coho) have been returning to Oregon’s coastal waters in record numbers this summer.

Please bear with me, for still calling them “silvers.” My love affair began with this beautiful, aggressive, hard fighting fish in the ‘50s. 

To commercial fishermen, and us old-timers, they are “silvers.” I don’t believe I heard them called coho until maybe the ‘70s.

Now if you hear someone say “silvers,” you know where it comes from, I guess you could say, “old school.”

Today, fill out your harvest card, it’s coho.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) predicted the 2019 coho run would be the best in 10 years. So far, seems they were right.

Sports anglers and fishing guides have been returning to docks, with limits, in record breaking times.

Donald Koskela, of Pastime Fishing Adventures, reports his clients recorded limits, five straight days, all before 10 a.m. Several days before 8:30 a.m.

Silvers are aggressive feeders and strike lures or trolled baits violently.

When hooked they frequently will cart-wheel into the air and make “thumb-burning” runs. 

This leads to many strikes without hook-ups. Since barbless hooks are required, a high percentage of fish are lost before reaching the net.

Another important factor is wild or native fish. Native fish must be released un-harmed. Barbless hooks make it easier to release native fish.

Native fish are to be released without bringing them into the boat. This can become quite difficult. Bouncing boat, waves splashing into the boat and a fish going ballistic in the net becomes a challenge.

Savvy anglers and experienced guides become skilled in the process. Some of these guys spot that important adipose fin before the fish even gets to the net.

Then you have the other side. They net the fish, bring it into the boat, then struggle to remove the hook.

Time is precious for the fish. Excited anglers want a photo of that beautiful fish. Pick it up, the slick wiggling fish falls to the floor, protective scales are lost, fingers wind up in the gills. This is a dead fish.

Tossed back into the ocean, it will simply float away, nose out of the water, to become a meal for sea lions.

We see this sad scenario played out over and over. It has been a heated debate for years. Many veteran anglers beg for the rules to be changed.

Make it, “Keep the first two fish you land and go home,” they plead. Nothing has changed. Hundreds of native salmon die this way, year after year.

Native salmon vs hatchery salmon; How do you decide which one to keep?

Hatchery fish are spawned, hatched and reared in a hatchery. As fingerlings, called smoldts, the adipose fin (small fin on the smoldts back-between the big dorsal fin and tail) is clipped. They are then released into rivers.

Smoldts make their way to the ocean where they will mature and return to that same river. Most of them will return in two years to spawn. They may be harvested.

Native fish spawn and hatch in the tributaries of rivers where their ancestors have spawned for many years. They are protected.

These are the survivors of countless generations. Seasoned anglers are convinced they can recognize them by the fierce battle when they are hooked.

Silvers have moved in, near the mouths of coastal rivers, waiting for fall rains (freshets) to bring river levels up when they will stampede upriver to spawn.

They are on a feeding frenzy to gain strength for the journey miles upriver. Biologists estimate they may gain a pound a week. Seven-eight pounders today, could reach 14-16 pounds by September.

Great fishing could be ahead in August and September. Starting in late-August, an exciting change in regulations takes place. On limited days a non-selective season opens. Anglers will be able to harvest any salmon. Native fish may be included in the daily bag limit of two.

Anglers will be able to tag some of those big natives they released since June 22nd.

Salmon seasons and quotas are set by ODFW. Quotas met, season closed. It is the anglers responsibility to keep abreast of all rule changes and regulations.

Only 30 percent of the quota has been met. You have the month of August and September to head to the coast and take advantage of this historic Silver Bonanza.

Great recipe for this fine eating fish:

Prepare a foil bowl.

Lightly brush foil with olive oil.

Place fillet of salmon in foil bowl.

Lightly drizzle with lemon juice.

Lightly sprinkle with alder smoked salt.

(Optional) Add thin strip of bacon on top.

Bake, or cook on barbecue, at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Do not over cook. Remove when it first flakes. Remember, it will continue to cook for a short time after removal from heat.