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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

August 3, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box full of late summer salmon fishing festivities

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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:

Before launching into a smorgasbord of salmon fishing options during the month of August, imagine Paul Revere, riding his horse in high gear overdrive, shouting “The chinook salmon are coming! The chinook salmon are coming!”

In this column, during the last two months, I have spent significant time and words revealing my excitement about the chinook salmon forecasts bound for the coast, Columbia River, coastal bays, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and practically Dick’s Burger fast food stop in Seattle. To date, the forecasts have been accurate and frankly, salmon fishing from mid-June through July has been incredible. I know, as my personal summer chinook fishing has been going 24/7.

As you may recall, the hatchery-only chinook fishery ignited at coastal ports in mid-June. Thinking back further in time to 1981, or maybe 1982, the king salmon were just outside the surf line from the north jetty at Westport, north to Ocean Shores in 30-50 feet of water. The technique was primitive in anticipation of a hook-up. Seventeen “pulls” (two feet to a pull) and put the rod in the rod holder. Crush! And more crush! One after another, the rod tip buried into the water as the king salmon attacked like piranha in the Amazon. It was absolutely amazing and I’ll never forget it. Mint bright, fat 15-20 pound footballs, bound for the Columbia River, gorging on massive schools of anchovies.

June of 2012 was re-living that memory again as thousands of Sooty Shearwater birds covered the ocean surface, trying to get at zillions of anchovies. Underneath the birds, chinook salmon were feasting on the anchovies too. Indeed it was one of the best ocean openers in a long, long time.

King salmon were thick as fleas on a dog’s back between Tatoosh and Waddah Islands, where the Strait of Juan de Fuca begins at Neah Bay. The game was on and the spectacular chinook salmon fishing continued through the end of the month.

On July 1st, the Strait of Juan de Fuca opened for their annual hatchery, fin-clipped only chinook fishery. Ka-boom! Sekiu and Port Angeles were lights out. At Port Angeles on opening day, 49 boats were checked by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and those boats brought 73 king salmon to the launch ramp. Ediz Hook and “the Humps” were on fire.

To the west at Sekiu, 95 boats returned to the docks with 126 king salmon. Big, fat footballs, stuffed with baitfish and putting it on like the greatest hot dog eating contest of all time. It’s been an incredible salmon fishing summer already and there is more to come.

From a historical and contemporary perspective, August is shaping up to be the biggest salmon fishing enchilada of the entire year. King salmon will be peaking in many areas followed closely by this year’s coho salmon return. The ocean, lower Columbia, Willapa Bay, Strait of Juan de Fuca and north Sound will compete for the summer highlight show. In other words, the options are incredible.

I have the gunpowder to send you north, west or south. East is not an option. To the north, along the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu east to Port Angeles, the march of king salmon will peak early in the month, until the king salmon season closes for retention on August 15th. Remember, the coho salmon will be right behind the chinook.

To the west, Neah Bay, La Push and Westport should be awesome. Ilwaco has the potential, especially during the first two weeks of August, to melt the lighthouse right off Cape Disappointment, at the mouth of the Columbia River. They’ll be changing the name at the end of August to Cape Nirvana.

To the south, the last two weeks of August will be the big show in the lower Columbia. The king salmon run, which lit this summer on fire from Neah Bay to Ilwaco during the last two months will manifest itself in the lower Columbia as two-thirds of a million king salmon round the corner into the river. Mercy! Tides do not matter. I like the third week of the month as it’s paid huge dividends for this angler during the last few years. Fishing below and above the Megler-Astoria Bridge will be as good as king salmon fishing gets anywhere on the planet. I am so there.

Immediately following the Columbia River big show, I turn my focus onto Willapa Bay. As many anglers know, I have a hang up about Willapa Bay since I started fishing there every August dating back into the mid-80’s. Big kings in 10-20 feet of water is my definition of excitement. I fish the marker line, from Marker #2 east as far as Marker #26 on the soft flood tides. Big tides tend to stir the variety of grasses in the Bay and can affect, in a negative way, the ability to hook king salmon. I like the tides and timing, during the last week of August.

To be successful at Willapa Bay, it is critical to keep your bait (herring, whole or plug cut) one feet off the deck, regardless of depth. Do not be discouraged when they aren’t biting. There will always be a bite immediately before the high water and often during the approach to low slack. Shooting ducks in a barrel, baby. The salmon fishing jihad continues!

Finally, I would be remiss in not reporting on the first full month of Dungeness crab fishing in Hood Canal and Puget Sound. WDFW crab biologists predicted good crab fishing and I concur that it’s been a very good July. August catches should continue to be healthy until the summer season concludes on Labor Day weekend. My observation here in south Puget Sound is that the crab population appears to be good and the size of the crab is impressive. I had two huge Dungeness pass me on the water riding a Harley this past weekend. I am talking here, about big crab!

Isn’t it great to be alive? We live in a wonderful place and the salmon fishing this summer has been as good as it’s ever been. Excuse me while I put on my August salmon fishing uniform. It’s show time! See you on the water.

(Tony Floor is the Director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and a former 30-year veteran of state Fish and Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.)

Click on Tony Floor’s Tackle Box to subscribe.

(Photo by Mark Yuasa)

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