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Brookings salmon opener too cold for fish

t was c-c-c-cold in B-B-B-Brookings for salmon aficionados trying to catch a Chinook on the opening day of salmon season in the ocean out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. Actually the weather was sunny and delightful for anglers, but the water temperature was just a little on the ch-ch-ch-chilly side for a salmon’s liking.

A friend and I made tracks for the Oregon/California border on opening day and found consistent 46-degree water everywhere, as did other anglers who tried catching a salmon out of the Port of Brookings Harbor as well as the Port of Crescent City.

To put how cold 46-degree water is for a salmon, it would be just like living in sub-zero temperatures for you and me.

“The water was just way too cold for a salmon,” said Jeff from Englund Marine in Crescent City regarding their port’s opening day, consistent with what Brookings-area anglers found as well.

A salmon really keys into that 52-degree water, its favorite temperature for chowing down on all those anchovies that we troll across them. As of Friday morning, a strong temperature break of 52-degree water was at least 40 miles out at sea, according to my latest finding on the Terrafin website taken that day.

It was reported earlier in the week that salmon were haunting an area in 40 feet of water right outside the Brookings area.

If you drew a triangle from the Chetco River jaws to the red can buoy and then out to Chetco Point, a place often called Salmon Alley by some of the locals, 52-degree water was found on certain days (but not on opening day), and there were reports of large schools of baitfish, mostly smelt, attracting a small number of salmon to that area as well.

 Mike Johnson, Vacaville, California, Craig Cunningham, Clayton, California, Captain Rye Phillips, Wild Rivers Fishing, Lingcod, Port of Brookings Harbor. Photo by Larry Ellis
Mike Johnson of Vacaville, California and Craig Cunningham from Clayton, California, fished with Captain Rye Phillips of Wild Rivers Fishing on Friday and scored radically on huge lingasaurs while fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. Photo by the author

So if a person insisted on trolling for salmon, I would tell them to concentrate in the area around Salmon Alley, exercising extreme caution for steep swells that are being called for by the National Weather Service in that area this week.

But basically, salmon (and that great 52-degree water) don’t usually get to this area before the second or third week of May anyway.

In past years, the sport boat community has always relied on the commercial fishing fleet to let them know where the salmon were and what the current water temperature was. But this year, the commercial salmon fleet out of Brookings first made tracks north to the Bandon High Spot to rake in the kings.

Now the commercial fleet has hightailed it to Fort Bragg for its May 1 opener, so we won’t have the commercial salmon fleet to rely upon for those important numbers for a while.

To make matters worse, the permanently-moored St. George Buoy, located 8 nautical miles northwest of Crescent City broke loose and went aground on December 13, 2014, just south of Gold Beach, and the National Weather Service says that it won’t be re-commissioned until September or October.

Anglers depended on the St. George Buoy for swell direction and water temperature — a great loss during a time when fishermen need it the most.

In the meantime, the lingcod fishing just took a jump from red hot, to white hot, the hottest stellar heat in the universe — blue hot, where Brookings anglers are raking in copious quantities of corpulent lingcod.

“We’re catching most of our lingcod down around Akin Point,” said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers fishing. “And the black rockfish that we’re catching are just loaded with krill — loaded!”

Which explains a lot of that speckled, colored stuff that people are finding on their fish finders.

If the krill stays in the local area, when the 52-degree salmon water does finally get here, the combination will probably be enough to keep them here for a spell, and well-fed fat footballs.

So what keeps that ideal 52-degree water 40 miles at sea? One word.


When the wind starts howling, it blows that 52-degree water back to sea, and also cools off what warm water the area did have.

But a few southerly storms and some mild seas will bring back the salmon’s favorite water temperature. Doable water temperatures for Chinook can be anywhere from 50 to 54 degrees, but anything less than 50 degrees, or anything more than 54 degrees puts them off the bite, or just pushes them out to where that 52-degree water is. It’s as simple as that.

In the meantime, local-area anglers should concentrate on bottom fishing and surf fishing. The lingcod fishing is the best it has been in years and the surfperch fishing is now white hot — ready to change to blue at any moment.

Tight lines.

Larry Ellis, author, writer, columnist and photographer has had a 50-year passion for fishing in California and Oregon's saltwater and freshwater venues. He is a well-known writer for Oregon, Washington and California Fishing and Hunting News, Northwest Sportsman, California Sportsman and Pacific Coast Sportfishing. He currently writes monthly for Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, and is the weekly fishing columnist for “On the Water” for the Curry Coastal Pilot Newspaper. He particularly loves living in his hometown of Brookings, Oregon - The heart of salmon country and gateway to fishing paradise.

On the Water in Oregon by Larry Ellis is posted with permission of the Curry Coastal Pilot of Brookings, Oregon.

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