‘Tis the Season for Cutthroat and Crab
Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit more than hauling in some resident Chinook and pulling crab pots in the snow. We can get some beautiful days in the Northwest this time of year with not nearly as many other folks to share the water with. It can also get downright nasty too, so make sure your boat is running well, has all safety and survival gear aboard, and is ready for cold conditions.
You don’t want your sleigh ride to be towed by eight tiny reindeer, aka an expensive tow captain in rain gear. Be prepared. Dress like you’re going skiing is my rule of no numb thumbs. Speaking of rain gear, make sure you have some quality foulies on board. Being cold is bad. Being wet and cold makes things exponentially worse.
Resident Chinook are always the biggest draw in December saltwater fishing. Many areas of Puget Sound should be open for these fish. Troll near the bottom with spoons, hootchies, or bait. If there are a lot of undersized Chinook around, switch to big plugs such as Tomic or Silver Horde. If you’re fishing plugs, make sure and let them out further behind the downrigger clip than you would a flasher and lure combo. This allows the plug to work more actively from side to side. It’s fun when you hook a salmon on a plug because you’re not fighting the flasher, you’re directly connected to the fish!
Check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website for regulations, rule changes, and emergency closures before you go. Many marine areas in this fishery can close when a predetermined guideline of “encounters” with salmon is met.
Crabbing is open in areas of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands through December. Christmas crab is always a nice addition to the holidays for a festive feast. There are not as many big tidal swings this time of year, but still remember to weight your pots heavily. Many folks who think a Grinch stole their pots, have had their gear swept away by the tide.
Also, bait heavily. If you have some of the more inexpensive pots, crab sometimes will be able to just walk out when the bait is gone. Crab and pot theft does happen, but it’s not the only explanation for empty or missing traps. Salmon heads from your blackmouth catch make the best crab bait, bar none! Let nothing go to waste this holiday season.
Sea-run cutthroat trout can be great sport this time of year. Usually caught on a fly, they provide a hard fighting opportunity for the bug chucker. These fish spend most of their lives in the salt, cruising the beaches looking for baitfish. When the tide runs in or out, they’ll use structure to get out of the current, just like their freshwater cousins do in rivers.
I’ve got a new six-weight fly rod, and I’m itching to try some stripping and twitching out on some cutties. Just about any point with beach access around the mid to south Sound can be a candidate for cutthroat. One of the local tackle and fly shops in the area can point you in the right direction of what flies to use. These shops are usually very helpful and willing to offer advice.
Resident coho can also be found in southern Puget Sound in December. Be careful with fish identification when going after these silvers. Small resident coho can look like shaker Chinook. This fishery is the realm of the fly fisher and the pursuit shares many similar tactics with the sea-run cutthroat trout. These fish may be found a bit further from shore, so traditional fly trolling with light tackle can produce some fun fights with these fish.
“Bucktailing” is a trick that your gramps might’ve tried back in the day. It’s basically trolling larger salmon flies behind a boat at over three miles per hour in, or close to, the prop wash. A bit of weight or sinking fly line is used to get the offering down some, but this is a fun surface tactic.
Hatchery steelhead should invade the local rivers this month. These “brats” as they are called are usually smaller than their wild cousins. They show up earlier and move up their natal rivers very quickly to the hatchery region from whence they came. They are good for both sport and eating. Check for catch and keep in rivers that are open to fishing them and have hatchery production. Hiring a guide is a great way to experience a day of this type of fishing in these parts.
Next month kicks off another new year with the opening of one of my favorite fisheries; San Juan’s winter Chinook. Big time derbies, prize money, and fun! Until then, get in the holiday spirit, get out on the water, and go get some!