Happy spring and season’s change to all Northwest Yachting readers! I’m going to be taking over the monthly fishing column from my friend Tony Floor. Thank you to Tony for passing the torch to me. Don’t worry, because Tony will still be around the Northwest fishing scene. I’m sure when you have as much saltwater in your veins as he does, it’s impossible to get all the way out of the game. I don’t see him sitting in the desert most of the year anytime soon. There’s family and friends to boat with, fish to be caught, prawns to be consumed, and grape juice from the vine around these parts. A Northwest boy through and through, we haven’t seen the last of Mr. Floor. Not by a long shot.
Tony has been a champion of recreational fishing in Washington for more years than I’ll mention here. He has fought the good fight out front and behind the scenes for all of us who like to wet a line or drop a pot. It hasn’t always been easy, but his eternal optimism has kept many of us in the know of fish politics world from getting discouraged. I know Tony would say that he stood on the shoulders of giants to become who he is. I can say the same, and consider his shoulder one that I have placed a foot on. On top of all that, he’s a pretty darn good fisherman. I know he would consider that one of the highest compliments of all.
We anglers have just come out of the North of Falcon season limit setting process for the Washington salmon seasons. All in all it was a mixed bag. We’ll be fishing for salmon in 2017-2018 with some gains and some losses, but we will be fishing. Complete seasons and regulations are posted on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at wdfw.wa.gov. Next month I’ll address that and try to give an enlightening dissertation on where we anglers are now, how we got here, and what needs to change to continue sport fishing as a way of life. I’m turning 50 and have a half century of observation to get out before I lose my train of thought. Happens more and more these days. So look for some hard truthiness in June, but for this month of May we’re going to keep things positive and focus on opportunity to get out on the water and get some groceries. The best kind of groceries…the fresh ones that you catch yourself!
It’s time for Prawns!
Let’s start with spot prawns that open for harvest in many areas on May 1. About as sweet and large as you will find anywhere, they are worth gearing up for and going after. One of the hot spots is in my backyard in the San Juan Islands, but many places in the Straits and Sound are also open. Legal methods, limits, places, times and even hours that seasons are open can be complex. You will hear me repeat this mantra ad nauseam, but do your own research and always check WDFW regulations before planning a trip. Then check them again, 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 feet 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 feet of weighted line. Then weight these pots (if not the pre-weighted kind) with a 10-pound 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. 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 the like to wind the weighted shrimp line into as it comes over the rail to keep things organized. Use good bait too. I like shrimp pellets soaked in one of the shrimp catching oils on the market. I may throw some other fish parts in as well. Good old staples like cat food still work. Tender vittles catch tasty morsels! Speaking of tasty, we’ve been steaming prawns lately. Yum.
Halibut and lingcod are also open in many areas in May. Ling for longer periods, and halibut just on a few selected days. Wait for it…check the regulations before you go! There are size limits and depth restrictions for lings, and other rules for halibut. But for tasty eating and fun, lings are the thing. Halibuts are just nuts! Once again, don’t be shy, 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 80-120 feet. 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 behind this. Using good baits such as horse herring or squid is key. This works very well, however drifting and even downrigger trolling can have their day.
Again, when running out to deeper water the big pipe jigs put fish on the boat. One of the best ways to find good information is to visit the local tackle shop in the area you will be fishing. They can set you up with what you will need and can really use our support!
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 way to go for those not already dialed into the river scene. Next month we will cover some Salmon 101: The political pressure and pinniped side and the fun side. And yes, they are mutually exclusive! Until then, go get some!