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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 10, 2011 at 12:39 PM

Cash in on the banks for winter chinook salmon

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Tony Floor, longtime saltwater salmon angler and current director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association in Seattle provides some good fishing tips for hatchery-marked chinook on the “banks” in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Here are some tips worth reading up on by Floor if you plan to cash-in on these sandy bottoms loaded with feeder chinook:

Clearly, from a saltwater salmon angler’s perspective, it is a time of the year when resident or migrating hatchery produced chinook salmon, which become king salmon for this year’s cycle, actively feed on sandlance or candlefish abundant on many of these banks.

During my career at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, I spent significant time attempting to learn the feeding and migratory habits of these hatchery produced chinook salmon primarily in Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The foundation of the data, is derived from a tiny microscopic metal tag, injected into the snouts of about 10% of hatchery production, before they are released from the freshwater of their origin.

This tag, once recovered by WDFW personnel who check fish landed at boat ramps and docks throughout Washington, are examined under a microscope and identified, relative to their hatchery release. Year after year, the migratory patterns of these hatchery chinook salmon are very similar, governed by the hand of Mother Nature who controls survival rates.

Back to the banks.

The north end of Middle Bank, the south end of Hein Bank, Coyote Bank, and Salmon Bank have been the most popular fishing areas by anglers willing to run to these underwater sand and gravel habitats in search of baitfish and chinook salmon. Predominantly, ebb tides on the fore-mentioned banks produce the best fishing and catching results.

To be successful on Middle Bank, for example, look for an outgoing tide, fishing a downrigger five feet of the bottom, in 120-140 feet of water, with a plug cut herring spinning about 25 feet behind the downrigger ball. Money!

I start on the northeast corner, trolling west to the U.S.-Canada line, and turn south on the northwest corner following the contour of the bank for a mile or two. Repeat the strategy on the ebb tide to slack. When the current begins to slow down, heading toward slack, is when the blackmouth go on the bite. Women and children are not safe.

Coyote Bank, adjacent to the U.S.-Canada boundary line, located on a northwest, southeast line between Victoria and Dungeness Spit is my favorite place to fish in March. If five boats show up to join you, on an ebb tide during flat water conditions, that’s a crowd.

The technique is identical to my description above on Middle Bank. Start on the east end of the bank, in 110 feet of water and troll west, down the bank, following the depth contour to 140 feet and repeat.

Abundance of baitfish is uncommon here, but do not let that fool you as the chinook salmon will be in the neighborhood. They cruise, I believe, on or around the bank, in search of small schools of sandlance and a rare plug cut herring.

A very light tap-tap-tap on the end of the rod tip, followed by reeling down hard and fast until the rod buries into the water and it’s game on. Always fish with the current on these banks and it is mandatory to stay within 10 feet of the bottom; five feet is perfect.

As much as I like to fish these banks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, March weather can be very unstable. I am looking for winds in the eastern Strait forecast at 5-15. It is fishable at 10-20, barely, but uncomfortable and inefficient. Pick your days. The fish will be there.

(Photo by Mark Yuasa of Tony Floor on Coyote Bank with a nice chinook salmon)

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