May is full of opportunity to get out and get some seafood. Whether we’re talking about north or south of the Canadian border, it’s go time!
Let’s start with spot prawns which open for harvest in many areas May 5. About as sweet and large as you will find anywhere, they are worth gearing up for and going after this month. One of the hot spots is right in my backyard—the San Juan Islands; but many places in the Strait and Sound are also open and jumping with action.
Legal methods, limits, places, times (even down to the hours that seasons are open) can be complex. You’ve heard me say it in this column before, but do your own research and always check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations before planning a trip. Then check them again the night before you go, including any emergency closures that may be posted. This goes for any state in the United States or province in Canada. Enforcement officers are usually very fair, but they have a job to do. Don’t make that job writing a ticket for you! With that said, don’t be intimidated. It’s not that hard if you are aware and pay attention to the rules in your area.
Back to the fun topic of catching these tasty shrimp; look for days and times with flat tides to target them. They can be found in many areas from 200’ to 400’ deep with a flat bottom. With modern electronics, we can even see shrimp beds as clouds on our sounders. Make sure and use good traps with at least 350’ of weighted line. Then weigh down these pots (if not the pre-weighted kind) with a 10-lb. downrigger ball clipped to the pot. Many folks who think they’ve been the victim of a pot thief really got their gear swept away by rushing tidal currents. Don’t be that guy or gal! Weight heavy.
Also, a good pot puller is a must for this fishery because of the depth reached and weight of traps. One tip is to use a round laundry basket or something like it to contain the line as it comes over the rail—keeps things organized.
Use good bait too. I like shrimp pellets soaked in one of the shrimp-catching oils on the market. I may throw in some other fish parts as well. Good old staples like cat food still work. As far as cooking methods, I’ve been boiling prawns lately for just a couple minutes. Once you get the timing down correctly, I think that’s one of the best ways to do it.
Halibut and lingcod fishing are also open in many areas in May. Ling has a longer season, while halibut has just a few selected days. There are size limits and depth restrictions for lings, and other rules for halibut. But for tasty eating and fun, lings are the thing and flatties are nuts! Once again, don’t be intimidated by the rules and regulations, just do your research and go for it.
For lingcod close to shore, I like to bounce lead headed jigs with curly tail plastic worms down a drop-off from 80’ to 120’. Look for kelp. Little fish like to hide in kelp and big lings eat little things…and big things. Some folks use live bait for these toothy tasties, but I’ve had just as much luck with jigs. For those who venture out further into the Pacific, pipe jigs will produce good cod action.
Anchoring for halibut has become the go-to method in many parts of the Northwest. Find the right structure and let the flatties come to your scent trail is the theory. Using good bait such as horse herring or squid is key. This method works very well; however, drifting and even downrigger trolling can have their day. Again, when running out to deeper water the big pipe jigs can put fish on the boat. One of the best ways to find good information is to visit the local tackle shop in the area where you will be fishing. They can set you up with what you will need, and can really use our support.
Salmon fishing should be open in Canada in May. This can be a good time to intercept some of the early lunker springs moving through Sooke and Sidney. Saddle up and make a run for the border!
So, there are some great opportunities this month to get out on the water. No salmon in the salt right now unless one heads north. However, some river fishing can be had for Chinook. Going with a guide is a great option for those not dialed into the river scene. Next month we will touch on salmon availability, and how to find ‘em and fillet them. Until then, go get some!