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Oh, My Cod

by Mark Yuasa

With spring now in full bloom, the choices of places to go fishing across Washington are expanding, whether it’s in saltwater or freshwater areas.

The Puget Sound lingcod fishing season commences on May 1, and the chances of catching one of these gnarly looking fish have improved in recent years. The reason for a resurgence in the lingcod population around Puget Sound likely points to improved fishery management. Lingcod were considered overfished in the 1970s. But, by allowing a limited amount of time to target them in spring and early summer, plus a slot keeper-sized length limitation, their numbers are now in relatively good shape.

Lingcod catches have been fairly good in recent years in the central and northern Puget Sound (Marine Areas 10 and 9), San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7), and Saratoga Pass (Marine Area 8-1). Fair catches can be found in Port Susan and Port Gardner (Marine Area 8-2), and southcentral Puget Sound (Marine Area 11). Lingcod fishing is open daily from May 1 through June 15 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu to Port Angeles (Marine Areas 5 and 6), San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7), and most of Puget Sound (Marine Areas 8-1, 8-2, 9, 10, 11 and 13).

The lingcod daily limit is one per angler. Minimum size limit is 26 inches and maximum size is 36 inches. To improve success for lingcod, look for structure on the bottom— such as rocky pinnacles, reefs, rock piles, steep drop-offs or ledges; a breakwater or jetty; or almost any hard rocky bottom. Oftentimes you can find them in shallow water at depths of 50 to 90 feet. Make sure your boat has a fish finder to pinpoint lingcod holes. The breakwater areas near local marinas are good places right when the fishery opens, but they do get fished out rather quickly of legal-size fish.

The best time is an hour before and after slack tide—high or low tide depends on the location— since it’s the timeframe that allows you to easily get your presentation in front of the lingcod’s face. When the current is running hard or the wind is blowing, you’ll likely have a harder time staying right on top of them. What also happens is the chances of snagging or losing tackle around rocky structures increases as you drift quickly over a snaggy, rocky fishing hole and you’ll pass by the prime spots before you even get your lines down to the lingcod areas. This is where positioning your boat becomes important. Lingcod are a nonmigratory, rather solitary, and predatory creatures who don’t appreciate anything coming into their territory. They like to hide in their lair and jump out at unaware prey swimming nearby.

Puget Sound sees heavy angling pressure when the season kicks off, and areas tend to get fished out quickly of keeper-sized lingcod, although in 2023 some anglers were able to find fair catches throughout the season.

Look for lingcod in reefs south of Richmond Beach, north of the Edmonds Marina, and southeast of Alki Point; the rocky breakwaters off the Pier 91 Marina in Elliott Bay, the Shilshole Bay Marina, and the Edmonds Marina; the San Juan Islands; Point Evans near the Narrows Bridge; Possession Bar; Toliva Shoal off Steilacoom; Alki Point Lighthouse off West Seattle; Itsami Ledge off Henderson Inlet’s north end; Utsalady Bay; Smith Island; and Burrows Island. Another option to catch lingcod includes off the coast at Neah Bay, La Push, Westport and Ilwaco (Marine Areas 1, 2, 3 and 4) which are open daily through Oct. 19. The western Strait from Sekiu River mouth west to the Bonilla-Tatoosh border (Marine Area 4) is open daily through October 19 for lingcod. Coastal jetties are considered ideal lingcod spots; try Westport, Cape Disappointment near Ilwaco, and Ocean Shores. Jetties can be a hazardous place to be, so pay close attention to weather conditions, sneaker waves, and slippery rocks and boulders.

Springtime Trout in Lowland Lakes

Excitement is in the air as hundreds of lowland lakes across the state will be planted with around 14.5 million trout throughout 2024 and most of those are already swimming around waiting to be caught! The statewide opener was April 27 but no need to fret as an estimated 2.2 million are catchable-size trout averaging 12 to 14 inches. Plus, another 143,000 jumbo trout measuring more than 14 inches and averaging 1 to 1.5 pounds went into many lakes. Mix in the almost 1.5 million “put, grow and take” trout, which were stocked in 2023 and should be in the 8- to 12-inch range now, and that adds up to some good fishing. Top that off with more than 10.6-plus million fingerling and fry trout and kokanee planted two years ago that’ll be of catchable size for the 2024 season and you’ve got some major fun awaiting you in lakes around Washington.

“The trout plants are pretty consistent from 2023, and the fish we have going into our regional lakes are nice quality-sized fish,” said Justin Spinelli, a WDFW Puget Sound regional biologist. “Our fisheries don’t harvest more than half the trout that are stocked in the spring and anglers in the summer and fall should have plenty of fish to catch.”

Stirring the pot of fun even more is the fact that the WDFW Trout Derby is open through October 31, and anyone with a valid fishing license is allowed to participate. For the past nine years, the derby has generated close to 50 to 55 percent of the tags turned in statewide. In 2024, more than 800 prizes valued at around $41,000 will be up for grabs by anglers. For the statewide stocking schedule, go to: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports. For information, go to: wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/contests/trout-derby.

Plenty of Nibbles & Bites to Come

The tentative statewide salmon fishing seasons for 2024-2025 were announced in April, and for the June issue we’ll provide a rundown of where to go this summer for Chinook, coho and sockeye. The popular spot shrimp fishing season should open by mid-May in several parts of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Check the WDFW website for possible May coastal razor clam digging options. Lastly, if you’re targeting bottomfish, the halibut fishery opens this month off the coast, and some parts of inner-Puget Sound opened in April.

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