Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box:
Did you hear that? I could swear I heard a Coyote howling, off in the distance. There it went again! Uh-oh, the calendar says it’s March and Coyote Bank up in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca is barking at the moon. It’s Coyote time, hey now, hey now!
As I reviewed my March columns from past years, I have consistently crowed about the good blackmouth fishing on the banks up in the Strait. Hein, Salmon, Middle, McArthur, Eastern, Mid-Channel and yeah, the Coyote.
The Coyote has consistently delivered in March and early April for this angler during the last 25-plus years. I keep going back, and when the weather allows, it produces. And as time marches on, I yip and yip about the stellar fishing on this bank, and yet I have never seen more than six or eight boats there, looking for big, quality blackmouth. No problem. More for me.
Examining a marine chart of the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, you’ll find a good number of banks, none of which are named Coyote. Coyote Bank got its name, according to Olympic Penninsula folklore, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when a commercial fisherman from Sequim fishing out of an old bright blue boat called the Coyote continuously trolled and worked the bank, fishing primarily for lingcod. Hence, since the bank is un-named, local salmon anglers like Mike Schmidt, also from Sequim, started referring to this underwater island as Coyote Bank. The name stuck.
Again, back to the marine chart. Draw a line from the eastern tip of Dungeness Spit to Victoria. Now, draw another line from the eastern tip of Ediz Hook in Port Angeles to False Bay on the southwest corner of San Juan Island. Bingo! The intersecting point is Coyote Bank. Further, you’ll notice that the U.S.-Canada border line runs parallel along the north side of the bank, as the geography of the bank runs east and west.
Another bingo! The current, without the aid of the wind, runs basically east and west in the Strait of Juan de Fuca which produces long troll patterns. I like to start on an outgoing tide, on the east end of the bank, on or about its most shallow geography, which is about 110 feet of water. I’ll start a slow troll with my kicker motor and drop my downrigger ball to the dirt. Up it comes, managing to stay between 5-10 off the deck, as I troll west with the current. When the tide begins to flood, reverse the pattern, trolling east, starting out in around 135 feet of water fishing uphill.
While a variety of hardware works on the Coyote, such a flasher trailed by a Coyote spoon (coincidence), a hoochie or a coho killer, I like a plug cut herring (naked, or no other gear), set 20-25 feet behind the downrigger ball. Now, managing my downrigger cable for about 20-25 degrees off vertical, I wait for the slight twitching of my rod tip. Show me the twitch and I pounce on the rod, reeling as fast I can, until it becomes tight, between the chinook salmon and me. See the smile? Feel the smile? And the game is on! Nothing but my rod and reel and a Gamakatsu hook, up close and personal in the mouth of a big early spring blackmouth!
Unusually, you’ll never see an abundance of birds and bait on Coyote. Sometimes, my HDS-10 Lowrance identifies thin layers of bait on or near the deck, but not in traditional abundance on this bank. I believe, relative to the geographic structure of the Coyote, it’s difficult for bait to hold on this bank as the current often sweeps strong in both directions. Therefore, there are no eddys or soft currents for baitfish to hover and feed on zooplankton or phytoplankton, their primary diet.
Yet, salmon can arrive, like Kennedy International Airport, from all directions, 360 degrees, another reason to fish at the Coyote.
I have experienced, fishing this region for the last 30 years, that late winter blackmouth fishing is better on the banks of the Eastern Strait than the San Juan Islands. The Islands tend to be stronger, in producing blackmouth December into February, then the light switches and the banks take over.
And speaking of this current and past winter, blackmouth fishing has been awesome. It started in November with the opening of the Everett area along with Area 9. Blackmouth fishing on Possession Bar at times was a meltdown. The San Juans opened December 1st and the meltdown continued. Admiralty Inlet and Possession reopened in mid-January. Fishing and catching went into inferno status. Along came the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic, Feb. 8-9. They set an all-time record catch of hatchery chinook, in the 10-year history of the tournament with 200 fish entered in the derby. Getting the drift? The fabulous marine survival rate continues at this writing, as the stellar blackmouth fishing season heads down the stretch of March and April. Jeez, I love this game.
Examining tides and currents for March and early April, I am looking for currents that run about a foot-per-hour and begin early, running for six or seven hours. That formula is realized during the first, third and fifth weekends of March. My tide/current book, for example, on Saturday, March 15th shows a high water at 7:27 a.m. at an 8.1 ebbing until 2 p.m. down to a .9 low. Baby! Blackmouth on the bite!
As my wheels start spinning for Coyote now, it is critically important to pay attention to the weather. Winds up to 15 are fishable, but not greater than 15. Coyote is a long ways from land, including the Queen’s real estate on Vancouver Island. Check hourly marine weather report observations from Discovery Island, Race Rocks, Hein Bank and Smith Island. Coyote Bank is in the middle of that horizontal circle.
I’m usually running out of the San Juan Islands in my buddy Bill “The Scorpion” Schourup’s 30 Grady with twin 300 Suzukis. It’s about a 25-mile run for us, one way, and yet the weather Gods have been known to pin us down at the dock a time or two. Having a couple or three days to get on the Coyote has paid dividends in the past but regardless, heed the weather forecast.
As I have also reported in this space, former Congressman Norm Dicks has wet a line or two on the Coyote in years past. When I answer his phone call, there are no words exchanged. Just a Coyote howl from Stormin’ Norman. Some call it a life changing phone call. I just head for the closet to hang upside down for an hour or two, preparing for his arrival. “Tony!!!! Coyote!!!! Arroooooo!” Help me. See you on the water at the Coyote. Arrooooooo!!!
(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.)
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(Pictured is Tony Floor with a 40-pound king caught during late summer in a southern coastal harbor.)