July is truly a contender for the crown of “Best darn month to be alive and on the water” in the Northwest. King salmon, crab, fun, sun, fireworks, and freedom! School may be out for summer, but let me give you a class on what, where, when, and how to get a grade A fish box full of the sea’s bounty.
Let’s start with my favorite fish to chase, Chinook salmon. From Northern California to the Oregon and Washington coasts to Southeast Alaska (and many points in between), July is when our season opens for the king. Close to home, places like Westport, Neah Bay, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and my lair, the San Juan Islands, will bustle with boats bristling salmon rods. Depending on where you chase kings in the saltwater, keeping the tactics and tackle simple pays dividends. Downrigger trolling with an 11-inch flasher and small spoon is my go-to for July Chinook. I like the Silver Horde Kingfisher 3-inch spoons in green/glow with 48 inches of 30-pound leader tied to a flasher of the same color. Of course, plastic squid, herring, or anchovies will also work well. If you see larger bait on the surface, try a larger offering. Whatever the fish are keying on, match that hatch to produce strikes.
Location plays the biggest part in Chinook salmon success. Being at the right place at the right time and right tide is key. Out in the Pacific, that could be as easy as getting good enough weather to get out to the 40-fathom line and beyond. In the interior water, finding kings may mean using your electronics to find structure, bait, and salmon themselves.
Left: Carol Holman shows off a nice fish caught in last year’s Bellingham Salmon Derby. Right: Floyd Holman caught his Chinook in the family-friendly Bellingham Salmon Derby. Puget Sound Anglers puts on this great event and donates thousands of dollars to salmon enhancement and the community.
Some places we will be fishing this month have a combination of both. Take a July hot spot like Tahsis, B.C., for example. There are places in the interior that can hold incoming kings. If the weather dictates, you may want to stay inside. No point in pounding out if you don’t have too. Conversely, however, you may have to go out to the “highway” four to twelve miles out in the open ocean to find the fish.
No matter where you are, always know the rules and regulations before you go. Many places in Washington are marked selective fisheries. This means only Chinook that have a clipped adipose fin may be retained. Also know your species. Getting caught with a salmon that is kept illegally results in paying a very big fine. Once you know the rules, go have fun. Getting a big rod yanking takedown from a 30-, 40-, or even 50-pound king is a huge rush. Already, fish in the 60-pound class have been caught in Southeast Alaska this year. You never know, your next bite could be the big one!
Speaking of the big one, there will be two salmon derbies in the Northwest Salmon Derby Series in July. The first is the Bellingham Salmon Derby July 14-16, put on by the Bellingham, Washington, Puget Sound Anglers Club. This is a very well-run family-friendly event with lots of prizes for all ages. Last year our friends Andy and Carol Holman won an all- expenses paid trip to Queen Charlotte Lodge valued at $10,000! Proceeds go to good causes in the area. Visit their website at bellinghampsa.com for more info.
The second is the Big One Chinook Derby in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, July 27-31. I would love to check this out! Fishing for these landlocked Chinook can be very good, and they get big. Last year’s winner was almost 25 pounds! Go to the Lake Coeur d’ Alene Angler’s Association website at lcaaidaho.com to sign up. Good time for a road trip!
Albacore fishing off the coast should be in full swing by the first week in July. When the warmer blue water gets close enough, the tuna usually cooperate. Watching wave height, swell duration, and wind speed is key for safety in this fishery. Coming back across the Grays or Columbia bars on an ebb tide can be gnarly even with no wind, and flat out impossible with bad weather. You never know when something could kick up or go wrong 40 nautical miles out either. Know before you go!
Dungeness crab will open many places in our area in July. There is no better summer activity than catching a limit of Dungies and having a big crab feed for dinner. Salmon heads and carcasses work great for bait. Let nothing go to waste!
Last, but not least, have a great Independence Day with family and friends. We’ll be on a Parker Boats float with Salmon For Soldiers at the Friday Harbor Fourth of July parade. Salmon For Soldiers is a top notch organization that takes returning veterans fishing. They can always use our help and support. Please go to salmonforsoldiers.com for more information. Thanks, and until next month … let’s get out and go get some!