Return of the Kings (and Coho)
September is the month when salmon are either already migrating or very close to their river migration. Large numbers of Chinook (kings) will still be in the saltwater bays, estuaries, and near-shore spots like the San Juan Islands. This is also a big month for coho fishing in the salt where it’s open. Due to predicted low runs of coho, or silvers as they are also known, some rivers, especially in Washington, are closed to coho fishing. As always, make sure and study the fishing regulations for any area where you plan to fish. Also check the emergency closures on the websites of the agency having jurisdiction over the waters.
Inshore opportunities and river fishing for salmon can be very good. August saw pretty darn good fishing right out of the gate for kings in the Buoy 10 fishery of the Columbia River. If you’ve never fished the “Big C,” or are still trying to unlock its secrets, going with a guide is a great way to learn. Fishing may be closed in the lower river by the time you read this, but upriver opportunities are still going. A mix of Chinook and coho can make this a fun and productive experience.
Out in the salt chuck, some of the largest kings of the year will be caught in September. Right around Labor Day of 2010 we saw a 61-pounder caught off San Juan Island. In 2004, at the old Einar Nielsen Derby out of Roche Harbor, the top ten fish were all over 30 pounds. I’m not sure we’ll see that kind of fishing this year, but it’s sure fun to know that the next strike could be a big one. For Chinook in places like the San Juans, the productive methods are pretty simple. Most folks will be downrigger trolling. Larger spoons and hootchies behind a flasher just flat-out catch these fish. It’s hard to beat a herring or anchovy in a bait helmet as well.
However, they are more susceptible to dogfish, so if you’re catching sharks, you may want to switch to hardware. If you’re out on the water early, put your offering down at 30 to 60 feet and try shallow first. The kings may be up in the top of the water column. As the sun comes up, they will move down deeper. Keep dropping until you find them. Use your sounder or fish finder and look for fish arches. As Chinook get closer to river mouths, jigging weighted lures such as Buzz Bombs or Point Wilson darts can be productive. The fish may be feeding less, but they’ll hit these out of aggression. Time to fire up the smoker!
For coho, start shallow in the water column and troll a bit faster. However, don’t resist dropping your downrigger balls to depths of 120 feet and beyond. I’ve caught a lot of big silvers down at 130 feet plus. Also, look for these fish in deeper water farther from shore. If you see the tide creating a rip, troll just outside this water line to find the fish. I don’t get too concerned about what I’m trolling. Spoons and hootchies will both work. When coho go on the bite, they’ll hit just about anything. Another fun method out in the ocean or Straits is to troll a bucktail fly a short way out, right on the surface near the prop wash. Having a crazed, cart-wheeling coho blastin’ on a bucktail is a giggle producer for sure!
Another good tip this month is to make sure and study your salmon descriptions and be ready to identify different species quickly in case you need to release them. This time of year, you may catch anything from pinks to silvers to Chinook and chum. Just because a fish is pushing 20 pounds doesn’t mean it’s a king. There are good reference materials available from fish agencies, in tackle shops, or online. Keep one of these on your vessel and familiarize yourself with it.
Albacore tuna and other pelagic species should be rockin’ and rollin’ off the coast from Northern California to Vancouver Island. Sometimes September can be great for catching these fish and with good weather, too. Nothing better than canning fresh albacore caught on Saturday while watching the Seahawks on Sunday! Some tuna sashimi with a little soy and wasabi hits the spot at half-time. Or, if you’re not able to get out in the ocean, crab may still be available for harvest in some locations. I’m starting to get lots of good appetizer ideas for football season…
Summer may be taking its curtain call this month, but the fish will still be putting on a show, and getting put on a Ritz (cracker that is). Until next month, “Go Seahawks,” “Go Cougs,” and let’s go get some!