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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

September 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box loaded with plenty of salmon fishing activities

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Here is Floor’s Tackle Box:

September, huh? How did that happen? We get six weeks of summer and that’s it? Come on! The alternative is to move to Texas. Probably not!

I like September salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest. The month always generates tons of memories of incredible salmon fishing from Tillamook Bay to Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor, the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (Sekiu and Neah Bay) along with the north sound, especially later in the month when the coho salmon pour into Admiralty Inlet and Possession Bar. Yeah, cool mornings, kids are in school and time to wind down the summer run and gun program into an easier pace. Sign me up.

I have written, in this space, about torrid salmon fishing during the last few months along the coast, the lower Columbia River, Willapa Bay and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Neah Bay east to Port Townsend. It was awesome and not to be forgotten soon. For this angler, I view this summer as the big payoff for La Nina conditions of wet and cold for several years. Payday, baby, with higher than normal survival rates of most salmon stocks indigenous to this part of the world.

Weather forecasters have been using dirty words lately, suggesting a course toward El Nino conditions which result in lower ocean salmon survival rates, affecting the entire food chain, along with introducing species of fish that belong in warmer ocean temperature climates. Predatory fish, that forage on salmon smolts, baitfish and again, disrupting the Pacific salmon food chain. I’ll wait and see but the announcements put a torpedo in the hull of my optimism of looking forward to more great salmon fishing in 2013 and beyond.

It’s been a number of years, six to be exact, since the Grays Harbor king salmon run has been strong enough to allow anglers to keep one king salmon per day. This is the year. It is one of the few places in the state, particularly in the saltwater, where you can keep a mint bright king, caught in shallow water. For me, it’s the last hurrah of our fabulous summer salmon fishing season in Washington. Therefore, I want to share some thoughts with you about this awesome fishery.

First and foremost, I do not own real estate in Grays Harbor, nor do I receive any proceeds resulting whether you fish, or do not fish in Grays Harbor. In fact, I have been told by a number of anglers to zip it, regarding this fishery. Therefore, I want you to realize, that if you do not fish the Grays Harbor king and coho salmon fishery, you are missing a great, great fishery. Anglers who do know about Grays Harbor will be tight lipped and intel will be shared only through limited trap lines. Get my drift? This year, when the fishery opens on September 16th, the daily limit is 3 per day, but only one can be a chinook salmon. Three per day! I cannot remember, going back in time, when the daily limit was boosted to 3 per day. Decades, dude, maybe 30 or more years ago!

Part of my job at the Northwest Marine Trade Association as Director of Fishing Affairs, is to encourage anglers to go fishing, use their boats and get on the water. For me, that’s like imitating Santa Claus, dishing free toys to the masses. Try it, you might like it!

I started fishing Grays Harbor a little over 20 years ago and have learned significant detail about the fishery, and how to be successful. Catching big kings in shallow water, similar to the lower Columbia River and Willapa is about as good as it gets. You never get a bite, you get crushed. And the crush is instant and huge. Big fun. The fish are large, both kings and coho as 40 pound kings are not uncommon accompanied by coho capable of pushing 20 pounds. Holy schmoly, we are talking about the large variety here!

To understand Grays Harbor, I refer you to a chart of the area. The fishery starts around the SC buoy (SC is an abbreviation for South Channel), at the estuary of the John’s River located on the central southern shoreline of Grays Harbor. Most anglers fish with the current, in depths of 15 to 25 feet of water, maintaining a slow trolling speed, slightly greater than the current. It is critical, using a drop sinker of 6-8 ounces, followed by a chrome Kone Zone fish attractor (8-12 inches behind the drop sinker), attached to a 6-7 foot mooching leader, to stay one foot off the bottom. The majority of the kings and coho are clearly on the deck, although you will find coho salmon suspended between the surface and the bottom. Work the bottom at about a 45 degree line angle with a plug-cut or whole herring. I like a plug-cut herring, green label size which produces a tight spin at a slow speed. Predictable bites occur on the high and low water. Money!

Now, let’s drill down further on the when and where. I like flood tides during the last two weeks of September. If you can’t get down to Grays Harbor until the first week of October (the fishery ends on October 7th), fear not, go!

The where is very important. Most anglers work the shoreline at the SC buoy and follow the countour SE to Stearn’s Bluff (white house on the point of the bluff) and into the south channel. They will fish east for about two miles, passing O’Leary Creek until they encounter a group of pilings along the Harbor’s shoreline. The channel becomes relatively narrow and they run their boats back to the west, repeating the drill.

Back to the chart. You will notice, at the SC buoy, the channel breaks to the east, northeast. This is the north channel or main shipping channel and it is HIGHLY UNDERFISHED. I like to fish the north channel, near Bowerman Basin and a few wharfs located along the north side of the north channel all the way east to the mouth of the Little Hoquiam River. The fishing strategy is identical to the South Channel. Very few boats fish this area and it can be very, very good.

The north channel and the south channel are the two highways for king salmon and coho salmon bound for the Chehalis River and its tributaries. There are no dogfish and unlike Willapa Bay, for the most part there are very few grasses, such as eel grass to interfere with your terminal gear. When something tugs on the end of your string, it will be the right kind! See you at Grays Harbor later this month.

I would be remiss, to not mention the peak of coho salmon fishing out of Sekiu in mid-September. This is one of the most important coho fisheries in our state and perfect for smaller, trailerable boats. The coho migration usually peaks in the western Strait between the 15th and 20th of September and it is a no brainer. The challenge is finding a place in Sekiu or Clallam Bay to stay as it is always jammed with anglers during this coho prime time fishery.

The big Edmonds Coho Salmon Derby will happen on September 8th, followed by the Everett Coho Derby on September 22-23 where I will announce the winner, through a raffle drawing, of the 2012 Northwest Salmon Derby Series grand prize boat – a 21-foot River Hawk powered by the all new 150 Merc valued at $55,000. Ho-ho-ho!

Finally, if you are a Puget Sound crabber, don’t forget to return your crab catch record card this month, or report your catches to WDFW on-line. Hopefully, most areas of Puget Sound will re-open for the winter crab season in October. You can pick up a free winter catch record card from any WDFW license dealers.

See you on the water for more chinook and coho-ho-ho!

(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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