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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

December 6, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box says it’s all about the winter chinook


Tony Floor, longtime salmon angler and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association offers his monthly fishing report. Here is Floor’s Tackle Box:

If you spend the greater amount of your fishing time, fishing the saltwater scene in Washington, then December 1st is a holy day. Remembering that I am getting older than dirt, as I’ve fished this state chasing salmon since I was six years old back in ’53 A.D., well, you do the math, December 1st is the annual blackmouth opener in the San Juan Islands and while you read, I’m fishing!

Pound for pound, winter chinook are as tough as nails. They fight, pull and keep on fighting. I believe, the cold water conditions particularly at this time of year and lack of sexual maturity result in these fish being hardy and strong willed. Once captured in the landing net, lying on the deck of the boat, you need sunglasses to look at them even during the darkest days of winter. Chrome, baby, like the bumper on a ’57 Chevy.

As an angler who likes fresh salmon between the cheek and gum, San Juan Island winter chinook salmon is my filet mignon. Mild, oily, tender and right up there with as good as salmon gets, including overrated Copper River salmon species.

As a young buck, back in the early 70s, attending Journalism School at Western Washington University, I was fortunate enough to hook up with a local dude from rural Lynden, just north of Bellingham, who had a boat and fished regularly in the San Juans, especially during the winter months. From there, I met local legend Larry Carpenter in Mt. Vernon who helped refine my fishing skills in the Islands, beginning in ’81.

Larry, in his college days, was a defensive lineman at San Diego State. Need I say more? Get in his way when he sees a salmon bite, between the helm position on his boat and his rod, and you’ll ricochet off Mt. Constitution, Mt. Baker, the Space Needle and into Rosario Strait. Yeah, he gets excited when he sees a bite.

Today, as Larry and I are active members of the fishing over 60 club, young guns have risen as San Juan Island salmon talent. Names like Andy Holman, Bobby Wilson, Kevin Klein, and Jimmy Lawson, who call Friday Harbor home. And the Aggergaard boys, Shane and Jimmy from Anacortes who qualify as talented young guns too, learning from their father, Jim, one of the most highly respected fishing guides in the Islands. These guys fish the Islands nearly year round and have become the pulse of the haps in the Islands. These young guns do not speak with fork tongue, and if you ask them the question, they’ll give you the answer. In too many instances, a rare quality among anglers.

They are the next generation, who are good at what they do and continue to get better. They fish fast, pull flashers with Coyote spoons, coho killers, hoochies and flies. They share their information, especially with each other or with those who want to become better anglers. It’s my definition of class among anglers.

Kevin Klein, in particular, is the organizer for this weekend’s Resurrection Salmon Derby, on December 2-3 out of Friday Harbor, coming on the heels of the winter blackmouth opener. Top prize is a cool $10,000 for the largest fin-clipped hatchery produced blackmouth. I fished this tournament last year and it was white hot. Lots of hatchery blackmouth in the 10-14 pound class which are gorgeous fish any time, anywhere.

While the Islands provide significant geographic protection from our winter weather generally coming out of the south, finding calm water is not the challenge. Finding calm water hosting abundant schools of baitfish is the key. To become good today, at hooking blackmouth, the common denominator is finding the bait, sand lance (candlefish) and herring. Yes, the lone wolf blackmouth is often out there without the presence of baitfish but remember, these fish like to eat, and eat often. Putting an artificial lure, a plug-cut or whole herring in a blackmouth’s face will often get results, just like a bucket of chicken in Larry Carpenter’s lap.

In the western San Juans, near Friday Harbor, take a look at Rocky Bay up in the northwest corner of San Juan Channel, particularly on an ebb tide, trolling just off the bottom navigating south, in 120 feet of water, give or take 20 feet, toward Pt. Caution.

Last year, at this writing, Big Rock on the northwest corner of Lopez Island, just south of Upright Channel was lights out for at least a month. And the Salmon Bank, off the south end of San Juan Island was incredible. Just ask Jimmy Lawson during last year’s Resurrection Salmon Derby.

In the central Islands, Larry and I have enjoyed great days in Spring Pass between Jones Island and the west tip of Orcas. And just around the corner, from the wall to the Girl Scout Camp has produced good catches for me.

In the last five years, up on the north side of Orcas, on the east end of Parker Reef near Thompson Pt. can be very good, especially if the bait is there.

And to the south, down in Rosario Strait, well known spots like Eagle Bluff, Tide Pt. Obstruction Pass, Pointer Rock, Undertaker Reef and down into Lopez Bay are all good producers.

See what I mean? So many places; so little time.

Today, Larry does not fish as much as he did back in the 80s and 90s. He spends most of his time behind his desk, at Master Marine in Mt. Vernon, selling fishing boats or attending political fish meetings. It was through his tireless and persistent effort, in these meetings, that the San Juan Islands has become the mecca for winter and spring blackmouth fishing opportunity in our state.

Do you remember former Soviet Union leader Nikita Krushev during the Kennedy years? Larry negotiates like Nikita Krushev, with his shoe in his hand, banging on the negotiating table chanting slogans like “Ve Vill Bury YOU!” Maybe not that forceful but I appreciate the level of passion.

To the person, during the Resurrection Salmon Derby this weekend, anglers will not be remembering how Larry Carpenter quarterbacked opening the door for this winter fishery. I truly believe, as I was there, without Larry’s work, the winter salmon derbies currently running in the Islands would be replaced by basket weaving competition. Thank you Larry for all that you have done, and what you continue to do representing salmon anglers in the San Juan Island region. You have made a difference for many salmon anglers.

If you are not up in the San Juans with this cat, this weekend, fear not. The blackmouth season runs through April 30th, 2012. And just for drills, I went back 30 years ago, into the WDFW Washington State Sport Catch Report books to examine when the blackmouth hung out in the San Juans. Over a three-year period, from 1980-82, the catches were great, beginning in November through March. Mercy! Somebody help me!

Excuse me while I get my worm back in the water. It’s blackmouth time in the Islands, baby. Giddy-up! See you on the water.

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

(Photo taken by Mark Yuasa)



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