I’ve been fortunate enough to write scores of fishing and outdoors columns in a variety of publications for more than 28 years, and now I’m excited to share my passion with the readers of Northwest Yachting. On that note, welcome to the very first edition of Tight Lines.
For me, the saltwater salmon fishing scene in March and April has always warmed my heart with fond memories of trips on Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and westward into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The obsession of pursuing winter Chinook is an annual affair, and three major marine locations opened February 1 with anglers scoring fairly decent catches.
Those focal points include the San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) open through April 15; and northern Puget Sound (9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2), which are both open through April 30.
While most winter Chinook – often referred to as blackmouth for their dark gumline – are 4 to 8 pounds, it’s their bigger siblings in the 13 to 20-plus pound range that have anglers losing sleep the night before a fishing trip. These blackmouth, raised and released from Puget Sound hatcheries, are three-, four- or five-year-old immature fish. They tend to stay in our local waters and pack a voracious appetite for baitfish like herring and candlefish as they prepare to migrate back to natal rivers later in summer or fall.
Working tidal sequences at the right place, keeping tabs on the fish finder for schools of bait, and waiting for a salmon the size of “Bruce the Great White Shark” in Finding Nemo to eat a bait or lure is my strategy. OK, maybe salmon aren’t quite the size of Bruce, but you get the picture.
If you’re a numbers guy like me, then the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) catch statistics can also be a useful tool. WDFW San Juan Islands data from January 1 through April 15 of 2019 showed 6,255 boats with 13,236 anglers keeping 3,761 hatchery Chinook and releasing 2,555 hatchery and 2,563 wild Chinook. This equates to 0.6 fish per rod or 1.41 fish per boat. That’s about as good as it gets anytime of the year!
In the San Juan Islands, try Waldron Island; Parker Reef; Spring Pass; north side Orcas Island from Lawrence Point to Point Thompson; President Channel; Rosario Pass; Sucia Island; Smith Island; Tide Point; Lopez Pass; Obstruction Pass; and Thatcher Pass.
In northern Puget Sound, head to Point No Point; Pilot Point; Possession Bar; Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Browns Bay; and Double Bluff, off southwest side of Whidbey Island. On the east side of Whidbey Island, target fish at the “racetrack” between Camano Head and Hat Island; Sandy Point near Langley; Elger Bay; Baby Island; Rocky Point; Greenbank; Holmes Harbor; Onamac Point; and Columbia Beach.
Central Puget Sound (Area 10) is open through March 31; and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 11 and 12) are open through April 30. So far, the numbers game in central Puget Sound haven’t lived up to expectations as early WDFW data from Jan. 1-26 revealed 246 boats with 477 anglers kept a paltry 12 hatchery Chinook and released 118 hatchery and 52 wild Chinook.
Despite the light catch, it’s still worth a try at Jefferson Head; Kingston; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeast side; Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; and Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island.
In Hood Canal try Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock. Another year-round option is southern Puget Sound (Area 13) from the Narrows Bridge to Olympia.
The western Strait of Juan de Fuca (5) opens March 1 and stays open through April 30, and eastern Strait (6) is open March 1 through April 15. In western Strait is the sleepy fishing town of Sekiu where winter blackmouth prospects are often overlooked.
On an outgoing tide, start near the Caves, located west of Mason’s Olson Resort and head west to Eagle Point. On a flood tide run east to Slip Point, Mussolini Rock and the Coal Mines. In eastern Strait put your money down on the unexposed banks known as Middle, McArthur, Hein, Coyote and Salmon.
If you like to add a little bit of competition into your salmon trips then look no further than the revamped 2020 Northwest Fishing Derby Series.
Next up are Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15; Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22; and For the Love of Cod Derby in Coos Bay, Oregon, on March 21-22 and in Brookings, Oregon, on March 28-29. The highlight is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, boat and motor package. Anglers who enter any of 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win and will be entered into a drawing at Everett Coho Derby on September 26-27.
The series promotes boating and fishing by partnering with existing derbies and marketing events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For more details on the derbies, visit northwestfishingderbyseries.com.
In the months ahead, I look forward to sharing a lot of fishing options and tips. As the catch phrase goes: Year-in-and-year-out, bountiful fishing choices, but not enough time to get to them all. I’ll see you on the water very soon!