Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box:
Sunshine! I spread sunshine. Some anglers refer to me as the eternal optimist or the sunshine man. Just like the ice cream man, but different. But when it comes to salmon fishing, especially in August, bet your bips I’m full of sunshine.
I can’t think of a month in the calendar of time, when it comes to getting on the water that’s better than August. The weather is awesome, the best of the year. Salmon are coming at you from all directions in a crescendo only Pavarotti could understand. Dungeness crab, king, coho and pink salmon. Are you kidding me! It’s prime time to go fishing!
I believe, supported by historical catch data from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, that mid-July to mid-August is the peak timing to catch a king salmon at many places in Washington. Then, here comes the pink salmon, peaking in the last two weeks of August. Coho salmon overlap the pinks too, in August, everywhere from the coast to the Strait and into Puget Sound. Prime time, baby!
My primary focus is king salmon, during these first two weeks of the month. And with that said, the word “where” becomes the most important word in the universe. Well-known king salmon haunts like north Puget Sound, Possession Bar, Jefferson Head, Pt. No Pt., Craven Rock, Mid Channel Bank, Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, Freshwater Bay, Pillar Pt., Sekiu and Neah Bay. On the coast south of Neah Bay in La Push, Westport and oh yeah, the mouth of the Columbia. Beginning to understand the factor of “where”?
To some degree, for experienced king salmon anglers, it’s a personal preference to exercise what each angler has learned through a life time on the saltchuck. I have, to a great degree, spent considerable time in my life at all of the places noted above, chasing king salmon during August. Port Angeles to Sekiu has huge history for many anglers, dating back to the power king salmon years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and well into the 90’s. Of course, from a regulatory point of view, governing where we can and where we can’t, sport salmon fishing history, especially for chinook changed with the listing (ESA) of some wild chinook salmon stocks native to Puget Sound rivers back in 1998.
Today, 15 years later, our prime time king salmon fishery has evolved into the marking of all hatchery produced chinook salmon, allowing us in many geographical cases, to retain only fin-clipped hatchery chinook. The San Juan Islands and the coast, for the most part, are the exception to this rule during this time of the year.
As a longtime student of sport salmon fishing in Washington, I have witnessed a lot of change in our fisheries. For example, back in the mid-70’s when I started my career at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, it rained chinook salmon in my back yard in south Puget Sound. Not anymore. South Sound, for the most part, has become a biological desert again, compared to years ago, largely, as many scientists believe, due to environmental changes affecting early life history survival of juvenile salmon.
To the contrary, as our population has grown along the I-5 corridor, salmon fishing from Tacoma to Port Townsend and all the way through the San Juan Islands has grown significantly. So has the chinook salmon runs, riding the wave of hatchery production and the marking of all hatchery produced fish.
As a result, along with the stay-cation post economic recession and staying closer to home, the fishing power throughout the Sound has grown, particularly in north Sound featuring Possession Bar. Without question, Possession Bar, the underwater sandy bottom extension of south Whidbey Island has become the bread and butter to many salmon anglers within minutes of moorage and launch ramps. Fishing and learning how to fish the bar takes some considerable level of learning. Just ask Gary Krien (All-Star Charters out of Everett), who is considered the Joe Montana of experience fishing the Bar. Thousands and thousands of hours, Gary has trolled every square inch of this real estate, learning and looking for chinook salmon like an old retriever, sniffing for birds. Flood tides, ebb tides, slack tides and velocity of current causes Gary to work different corners of the bar, looking for bait and salmon. Other boats tend to follow him on the Morning Star and often sharing in the catch dividends. Possession Bar is definitely one of my top picks for Puget Sound anglers in August.
My heart and mind, via the investment of years on the water, more likely take me to the Strait of Juan de Fuca during the next two weeks. Ediz Hook at Port Angeles and Freshwater Bay, 12 miles or so to the west is a personal favorite. As king salmon migrate east, foraging along the shoreline down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, many of them encounter Ediz Hook, a huge spit of land, protruding north and east from the city of Port Angeles, like a large sickle. Both ebb tides and flood tides deliver chinook at this time of year for moochers, trollers and jiggers. Take your pick, it all works.
To the west a few miles, at Freshwater Bay, same strategy of attempting to intercept a big king salmon, feeding on sandlance (candlefish) off the kelp beds as they move slowly east on their migration home. I like fishing 90-140 feet of water, hugging the bottom, trolling at two to three and a half miles per hour with a Coyote or Coho Killer spoon attached to the new break-away flasher to do business. A white hoochie can be a lethal too. For moochers, fishing herring at Freshwater, wearing your patience hat is very important as the doggies can eat you alive! Dogfish, I hate dogfish.
By the middle of August, I roll for Willapa Bay and particularly the mouth of the Columbia River. It’s chinook salmon payday as schools of king salmon invade Willapa and enter the Columbia River. The third week of August has been magic for this angler at both locations. More recently, I like the beach fishery in front of the Long Beach peninsula, near the town of Long Beach, in 30-60 feet of water. These fish are so aggressive, they attack a tight spinning plug cut herring, 15 pulls and trolled at three to four miles per hour behind a diver like a pit bull on a 20 pound turkey, fresh out of the oven. I like fresh out of the oven (FO2)!
August, king salmon on my mind. It’s showtime people and if you don’t get it done now, you’re likely not gonna get it done this year! Saddle up to north Sound, the Strait and the Washington coast as there is a king salmon show playing right now, in a chunk of seawater near you. I’m outta here! 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.)