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Caring for your catch

s of Thursday, no ocean Chinook were checked in at the Port of Brookings Harbor or at the Port of Crescent City, and with the St. George Buoy out of commission, I knew right where to go to get all the salmon data I needed - the Terrafin website at terrafin.com.

Terrafin was invented by software manufacturer Jeff Gammon, whose application first used sea surface temperatures to ascertain where a tuna’s ideal 62-degree comfort zone was. It didn’t take long before every charter boat operation in California was using Terrafin to predict when and where the tuna would be. Now, Terrafin is used by Oregon and Washington charter boat operators as well.

Granted, Terrafin does come with an annual price tag, but it is well worth the investment. You will definitely make up for the price of the annual subscription with the money you save at the fuel pump, by knowing exactly which coordinates to head for the night before your fishing trip.

Robert Hodson of Brookings fished out of the Port of Brookings Harbor on Tuesday when he caught his limit of rockfish. Photo by Larry Ellis
Robert Hodson of Brookings fished out of the Port of Brookings Harbor on Tuesday when he caught his limit of rockfish. Photo by the author

After Gammon got Terrafin off the ground, considerable prodding from the commercial salmon fleet in Eureka prompted him to add chlorophyll charts as well. These charts proved to be invaluable.

High chlorophyll concentrations in a specific location indicate that the area probably contains a lot of plankton in the water, the nutrient soup of the sea, the food that baitfish and salmon smolts thrive on. So with high chlorophyll densities come high densities of plankton, followed by high densities of baitfish. And of course accompanying baitfish are other fish such as Chinook salmon.

Last week, there was a hard temperature break of 51 degrees as well as a well-defined chlorophyll break with lots of chlorophyll in the water about 23 miles out of the Port of Brookings Harbor. And when you lined up the temperature and chlorophyll charts together, the patterns that they made were absolutely identical.

So it will only a matter of time when the salmon will be here. It could be a matter of a few weeks or even a few days.

That being said, it is time for everyone to keep their ice chests handy, and be ready to load them up with plenty of ice, because you do not want your fish to warm up to room temperature. Doing so will ruin your salmon.

You may not think that it matters, but it will also ruin your rockfish — yes, the lowly bottomfish needs the same TLC as well.

After all, fish are fish, and they all need to be iced down, no matter what the species is. So it always does my heart good when I see folks bringing in iced-down rockfish and lings to the local cleaning station.

We who live in the Brookings vicinity catch the most sought-after fish in the world. You and only you have the power to bring home the absolute highest-quality and best-tasting products in the universe.

“When a fish dies, you’ve got flesh that immediately starts decomposing unless you get the heat out of it,” said Wayne Heikkila, executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA).

Decomposing; that’s a nasty word. I wouldn’t want to eat anything decomposing — would you?

Wayne Heikkila wrote the very popular on-line document, “On-board Fish Handling Procedures for WFOA Vessels.” As far as fish quality goes, his document is the bible of the commercial fishing fleet. It primarily addresses tuna, but he assured me with confidence last week that the standard operating procedures talked about in the essay applies to all finned, swimming creatures.

Yes, buying ice every time you go fishing can be a pain. It is an extra cost that many sport boat operators consider to be nothing less than a nuisance.

But it should be the first order of fishing business that occurs before you even put a pole in the water.

Now, the price of ice is very reasonable, especially for locals in the Brookings-Harbor vicinity. The Port of Brookings Harbor makes their own shaved ice, a concoction that is a mixture of salt and ice, a product that keeps your fish as cold as they can be.

But if you don’t have the time to buy ice at the port’s facility, Fred Meyer has 20-pound bags available for a pittance at their fuel station.

“The quicker you get the heat out of any fish, the better the product is,” says Heikkila. “With albacore and salmon, we always recommend getting it into slush ice within an hour at the most, and getting the core temperature down to 40-degrees within two or three hours. And that’s pretty easy to do with rockfish because they’re smaller.”

With salmon and tuna season upon us, I heartily recommend that everyone who cares about the quality of their fish to Google the words, “On-board Fish Handling Procedures for WFOA Vessels.” It is highly recommended by Oregon State University.

Besides icing down your catch, it is also extremely important to take the time to bleed your fish as well. A small cut to the gill or behind the gill on the gill membrane will usually do the trick. Bleeding must be done while the fish is alive and kicking.

A lot of people will bleed one side of a rockfish, and both sides of a lingcod. Usually, the unkindest cut of all for salmon and tuna only requires one carefully-placed cut with a fillet knife on one side of the fish.

Bleeding rockfish will render you nice, pure, white fillets. Bleeding salmon and tuna is absolutely an essential practice. Most of the time, when people complain that their fish has a “fishy taste,” it is usually caused by an improperly iced and/or bled fish. Blood being trapped in a fillet gives it a rank taste and foul smell.

The document Heikkila penned also talks about brain-spiking tuna in order to get the highest-quality “sushi-grade” tuna there is. It will only be a few months before the tuna arrive as well.

This paper is only 23 pages long and is primarily directed at the commercial fishing fleet, but the basic principles apply to the sport fishing community as well.

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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