Saltwater Fishing

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   Most successful anglers follow the five rules of fishing even if they are unaware they are following them. These "Rules" are not to be confused with the "Laws" of fishing, which states, "If your line is not in the water, you are not fishing!" Nor are they to be confused with the "Law" of fishing rods which states, "Two or more rods placed in close proximity of each other WILL find a way to tangle!" Fishing for salmon in local saltwater requires an understanding of the five rules and how they relate to the various species of fish you will find in our local saltwater areas.

1. Fish where the fish are, not where they ain't: As with any type of fishing, you must know not only where in the water your targeted fish will be, but when they will show up in those waters. Many species will be in Puget Sound all through the year, but there are runs of fish which enter the Sound in route to the local rivers to spawn. If you know where these fish come into local waters and know where in the salt water they tend to congregate, the majority of your fishing trips will be successful.

   For example, fishing for Humpies (Pink Salmon) during the month of June in front of Mukilteo will probably be an exercise in futility. Pink Salmon arrive in great numbers in mid August during odd numbered years (2013, 2015, 2017, etc.), so June is not the correct month and 2014 is not the correct year! There is a growing run of "even year" Humpies but they are semi-protected, in small numbers and are more difficult to catch.

   Your targeted fish prefer to gather in particular waters both to feed and to prepare for their spawning run. Know where they are and you increase your odds of catching them.

  • Steelhead: Although not generally considered a "saltwater" fish, Steelhead can be targeted in saltwater from the beach along the west side of Whidbey Island and at Deception Pass, mostly during the months of December and January. They are also caught as incidental fish during the salmon season on conventional salmon gear, although not often. Learn to identify Steelhead (totally white mouth, spotted tail, detached anal fin) so if you do catch one, you can mark it properly on your punch card. They also will not count in your "salmon quota", so you can catch more fish. Steelhead will be found close to shore making their migration to the rivers generally in three to ten feet of water. Bush Point, Fort Casey State Park and off the beach at Deception Pass give you access to them during November, December and January. Watch the regulations closely and observe property laws.
  • Chinook: Chinook are the largest salmon in the world but not necessarily the most active. I think nature has let them know that weight gain is a function of calories in versus calories out, sometimes we all should realize, and often they will not put out a lot of effort to eat. Their major food source in the salt water is herring, which they will feed on actively if they do not have to work too hard to catch them. Subsequently, give Chinook a slow offering that looks like an easy meal and your success rate will increase. Cut a herring with a slow roll and troll slowly (about 1.5 mph) in the proper water and you will find the fish. 
       Chinook will also attack artificial plugs and will actively strike a spoon or squid behind a rotating flasher, as long as it does not go too fast. I like Lure Jensen Coyote spoons about 36-42 inches behind a Hot Spot flasher using a strong leader, over 40 pound test, to take up the shock of the fish strike. I like a Goldstar green splatter back squid, the same length back with a strip of herring on the top hook to give it smell and added flash. When using cut plug herring, drop down to a 15 pound leader and troll that alone with no flasher, a stronger leader inhibits the action of the herring, which must have a slow "lazy" roll. Chinook are most active feeders early in the morning or at tide changes. 
       Look for schools of herring either on the surface or with your electronics. Feeding salmon will be below the schools. Do not troll or mooch directly on the school of herring since that will trigger it to break up and the bite will be over. Mooching, the dangling of a herring under a weight, is a very effective method of catching Chinook if fished properly and is exclusively used by some charter boats. 
       The first hit by a Chinook will often not be a grab, it is meant to stun or injure the herring so the salmon can come back and feed at its leisure. Do not set the hook on the first hit, wait for the fish to come back and allow the salmon to take the bait, maybe letting out a little line to entice it. Buzz Bombs or other jigs, properly fished are an effective method of catching Chinook salmon. They will hit on the down fall and only make one hit at the lure, set the hook then. Set the hook hard on a Chinook since they have tough mouths and a light set will not hook them.
  • Coho: Coho feed on herring, but they will also take krill (a small surface seeking crustacean which feeds on the plankton and zooplankton). Herring also feed on the krill so you get the best of both worlds when you find the krill, Coho also feeding on herring. Coho tend to strike more readily at a fast moving bait so give them what they want. I like a cut plug herring on a 45/45 angle, which will give it a fast spin. Travel fast on your troll (2.5 mph or more) and zigzag regularly to speed up or slow down your presentation. Coho will readily take a cut plug herring or a fly on the surface and I often put one out with a 2-4 oz lead. 
       An effective Coho method when all others fail is to troll fast and leave your herring in the small wake behind the boat, vicious strikes sometimes take place so retie often or the knots will weaken and break. Basically, you cannot go too fast for a Coho and many people have reports of running full throttle to the dock and having their lure, which has been bouncing in the wake behind the boat disappear along with their rod and reel. That was a Coho strike! 
       Another very effective method is a green or blue splatter back squid 20 inches behind a flasher or 18 inches behind a dodger with a strip of herring on the top hook. Spoons, such as the Coyote by Luhr Jensen or the Coho Killer by Silver Horde, work extremely well behind a flasher or on their own (best behind a flasher) and some use Coho flies such as the Grand Slam Bucktail fly. When you get into a school, stay with the school and circle it, run back to it or do what it takes to keep working over it until the bite goes off or you lose the school. Remember, the fish are working their way towards the river, look for the fish to go that way. 
       Mooching or Buzz Bomb fishing is very effective for Coho once you find the school, but find the school first. Look for the rip tides. These will be lines of material washed out by the tide which draw in the baitfish (to feed on the material trapped in the rip) and draw the Coho to feed on the baitfish. Fish either side of these rips shallow and you will find one side produces better than the other. Stay with the productive side. You will note other boats, if the skippers know what they are doing, joining you at these rips so watch out for collisions. When the large schools of Coho are in, you should have no problem catching as many as you wish. Coho have a tender mouth so do not force them in.
  • Humpies: These fish will be found in the same general area as the Coho (see rule #1) and in fact often the Coho will be under the Humpy school, but they feed differently. Pinks feed almost exclusively on krill or other small crustaceans and you must match your presentation to their feeding patterns. Krill will move in small jerky motions as they drift very slowly in the water column.
       The best Humpy rig is a Goldstar pink F15 squid 16 inches behind a white plastic flasher. Put a little Berkley Power Bait under the squid head and go very slow. How slow you might ask? As slow as you can, then slow down! Fish this rig in the proper location at the proper times and limits will be almost automatic. Follow a different method and you are on your own. Be ready for the occasional Chinook or Coho who has not read this paper and will strike at your set up even though it is not their preferred bait. I know fish go to schools but I don't think they quite know what we expect them to do.
       Humpies will also go for a jig, a pink Buzz Bomb, a spoon, or even a squid/herring combination at times, but the absolute most successful rig in salt water is that described above. Use the zigzag method and if you get the strikes on the inside rod, the one going slower and deeper, adjust your speed and depth. If you get the strikes on the outside rod, the faster and shallower rod, adjust again.
       Like the Coho, these fish gather in huge schools, so stay with the school when you find it and come back to that location on your next trip because the fish will be there. During low water years they will stay out in this area until the first heavy rains come, then make a beeline to the river. These fish have an extremely tender mouth and will come off often, do not force them to the net, guide them gently.
  • Chum: These fish feed on the same things as the Humpies, but I know few people who actually target them in the salt water successfully, except in the Hood Canal. Fishing off the Hoodsport Hatchery or in that area, rig up a river fishing rig with lead, leader, corky (green, orange, pink, etc.), yarn and a very sharp hook, cast it into the schools of fish trying not to catch the other 100 people doing the same thing and either let it lie there or slowly retrieve it to you. You will know when the fish is there, they are not subtle and you can have the time of your life, especially if you have hooked a 20 pound Chum in the tail or dorsal fin. These are also great on a small green or pink fly but use a #8 or larger fly rod, they will destroy anything lighter. Trying to force a Chum to the net, as many people have discovered, can break strong rods. So be careful!
  • Sockeye: These fish are not targeted in salt water but if a fishery is open in Lake Washington, head down into the maddening crowd and have a good time. This is a boat fishery and there will be plenty of them to keep you company. Use a "0" chrome dodger with one or two red hooks about 9-16 inches behind (yes! just hooks!) and go very slowly, very, very slowly with either six ounces of lead or at 45-65 feet on your downrigger. In the old days we used a F20, flame orange Flatfish, but in about 1988 this method came into vogue. Sockeye are krill eaters and the hook apparently looks like a krill to them. I have no other idea why it works but it does.
       There is also a fishery for Sockeye in Lake Wenatchee some years, use the same method there. At Lake Wenatchee, the launch is at the opposite end of where the fish gather and it is a long run up the lake. The wind comes up to 25 mph and this can be a nervous run so be careful. The state also has a small, unimproved launch at the upper end, but it will be crowded (the fish are small also). These fish have a tender mouth so be gentle.
  • Sea Run Cutthroat Trout: Rule #1 tells you most of what you need to know. In the salt water, use flies (shrimp patterns are very successful) or small spoons such as Dick Nite (red/white is good), McNight or one of the Wicked Willie type spoons. In the estuaries, use these same things cast towards the shore or in the backwater eddies where the fish will come to feed. You can also use bait such as worms or night crawlers but you will hook whitefish and "shiners" (immature sea perch) as well as bullheads. Use a strip of flesh off the side of the shiner that bites your worm in the water and you may be visited by a Cutthroat Trout. Size limit is 14 inches but feel free to release everything. You may note that when the trout come into the area, most other fish leave since to the trout everything else is food. You may also be surprised by an errant Coho or Steelhead who decides to give you a fast, but sometimes short ride.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 October 2015 07:54

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