Say it after me… Oncorhynchus Kisutch. Say what? If you guessed it’s a term for ordering a pizza delivery to your boat, you guessed wrong. It’s the scientific name for coho salmon and here comes September, known by many salmon anglers as time to do the coho shuffle.
King salmon time is winding down for many of us, with a few exceptions such as Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor on the Washington coast, but September is a coho salmon stampede, barreling down the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Washington coast throughout the month, like a runaway freight train. And baby, in a year like this, we have a lot of coho salmon fishing options.
These coho salmon are bound for tributaries to all Washington rivers, averaging in size from six to 12 pounds as three year old fish, ready to make their contribution to the next generation of their species. Scientists suggest and have recorded a maximum size of a coho salmon at 31 pounds. Are you kidding me?! A 31-pound coho has the power to close the roof on Safeco Field!
Let’s examine the numbers. The Columbia River plans to host a return of around 500,000 coho salmon. Two stocks of coho dominate the run, an early timed stock and a late timed stock. The early stock traditionally peaks around Labor Day weekend entering the river, while the late stock peaks around the first week of October.
Grays Harbor, which often produces the largest coho stocks in the state (Chehalis and Satsop Rivers), should witness a return of around 300,000 fish. This is a windfall, in terms of numbers. In 2012, for example, 198,000 wild coho were forecasted, accompanied by 47,000 hatchery fish. In 2013, the forecast suggests 196,000 wild coho salmon will return, along with 85,000 hatchery produced fish. The regulations say anglers can keep three per day, either wild or hatchery fin-clipped fish. Mercy! If you’re looking for me, find me in my Grays Harbor regional office, 1-800-123-fish per day!
Puget Sound, not to be denied, has a forecast of 880,000 coho salmon, combined hatchery and wild fish. That’s 150,000 more than 2012 which was considered an awesome coho year. The Edmonds Coho Derby, September 7th, followed by the biggest salmon derby on the west coast, the Everett Coho Derby, September 21-22 could see record catches. They are two tournaments representing the grand daddies of the NW Salmon Derby Series, all built around coho salmon returning to the Sound.
I spend a lot of time, writing about chinook salmon, and, without the luxury of visiting the confession booth, they are my favorite salmon species whether they be blackmouth (immature) or kings (mature). In fact, they are my favorite species of fish in the world.
But coho salmon earn my respect, especially when they exceed 10 pounds. Great fight, great eats and they do not require fine-tuned skills to get them to bite. In fact, I had one knock on my front door last weekend announcing that they were in town. I know, it’s September.
Decades ago, back in the 70’s, my mentor Frank Haw introduced me to coho fishing in early September up at Neah Bay and Sekiu in mid-September. He suggests that coho fishing out of Neah Bay in the Cape Flattery region is all-world. If you want to catch a big coho, on fly gear, whether it be bucktailing (trolling a surface fly 50-60 feet behind the boat at a fast clip) or trolling a plug cut herring in the top 30 feet of the water column, you’re in business. Mooching works too as this technique, of working a plug-cut or whole herring in the upper part of the water column was the way, to historically fish for and catch salmon. Not anymore. Technology in trolling techniques with spoons, flies and hoochies own the sport salmon fishing world in Washington. Get over it.
Coho fishing out of Sekiu in mid-September is ridiculous. Try and find a room to rent. Camping, hauling an RV, it doesn’t matter: No Vacancy. Sleeping in a tree is an option, but not in Sekiu as they are full too. Why? Big coho salmon, baby, ocean run fat boys. Eating and eating and eating, the way John Belushi did in his movie Animal House.
As these fish move down the Strait, toward Puget Sound, their feeding behaviors change as they become finicky eaters and pursue deeper parts of the water column. After all, they have been pounding the baitfish hard, for the last few months.
Whichever direction you choose, from Neah Bay to Puget Sound, or down at the mouth of the Columbia River and of course the big show in Grays Harbor, here come the coho salmon. I’m stocking my Grays Harbor office now, for show time beginning September 16th, when the fishery opens. Giddy-up coho lovers! 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.)