Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for June:
I started thinking about this month’s column back in early May. I was looking ahead, as I do each month attempting to provide saltwater anglers options for a summer, which I predict has the potential to be the greatest of all time. That’s a very bold statement as I’ve spun my worm in these water for nearly 60 years now, connecting with heavy chinook and coho salmon that motivates me to go fishing, and then, go again. I like it when something large pulls on the end of my string!
As a young boy, I faintly recall my first salmon fishing trip out of Westport. The water was big, far bigger than I could imagine and the deep rumble from the charter boat’s diesel sounded like a locomotive running circles under the deck. But when my dad handed me his rod, with the rod tip thrashing, commanding me to “reel, reel, reel,” I became a fishing convert from that moment forward, dedicated to chasing and becoming knowledgeable about salmon throughout my life.
Today, I’m grateful to be on the playing field of this salmon fishing game, albeit my hair has turned gray and my step isn’t as quick as it was many moons ago while time continues to pass me at a speed, out of control. Sound familiar? But the good news for me, is that I’m in the game as this incredible summer of salmon fishing options unfolds for all of us who love to go, and go again.
July, blending into August is prime time for thousands of mature chinook salmon, who are now crossing the Canadian border, cruising into their home state. I think I smell ‘em coming! And I’ll be there as part of the army of salmon anglers calling ourselves the welcoming committee! Please, step into my office! These schools of salmon are on a course south with a heading toward Neah Bay and the Washington coast. Significant numbers of these chinook salmon will turn east on a 090 heading, down the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Sekiu to Port Angeles, rounding the corner at Port Townsend, meandering south down Admiralty Inlet and into Puget Sound. The San Juan Islands will witness significant stocks of chinook salmon, passing through their waters too, programmed for the Fraser River in southern British Columbia along with northern Puget Sound rivers and salmon hatcheries. Are you ready? Got a visual?
As I’ve written in this space in recent years, I have chosen to return to Neah Bay in early/mid-July to pursue repeat performances of hooking king salmon along the kelp beds of Cape Flattery as I did for so many years back in the 70’s and 80’s. Columbia River, coastal and Puget Sound chinook salmon stocks, according to the microscopic coded-wire tag injected into the snouts of many of these hatchery produced fish for the last half century, suggest the Cape is a region where chinook salmon segregate themselves from their migration from the north, to pursue the next leg of their journey to the south, or to turn east down the Strait of Juan de Fuca as mentioned above. It is a migration that has reoccurred at this time of year, for thousands of years.
Their appetites are ravenous as their life history requires putting on the pounds to the maximum before entering the fresh waters of their destination where they will not feed again until they make the ultimate sacrifice to reproduce, sustaining salmon populations in the future. My table is set for these migrating chinook, whether it be dropping a plug-cut herring on the tip of their snout, trolled at a slow speed (2.0-2.5 mph), or a faster trolled Silver Horde candlefish-imitation Coho Killer, which is lethal when schools of this species of baitfish are hanging around the kelp. It all works as long as your technique is linked to identifying what depth the chinook are cruising, relative to the real estate you are fishing.
While I’ve already invested significant time during June chasing chinook salmon out of Westport, I’ve decided that the greater part of my July will be invested at Neah Bay, Port Angeles and Freshwater Bay. I love fishing these areas, around acres of kelp beds, where it drops off into deeper water. The geography is outrageous and the strategy will produce endless take downs with big chrome king salmon ripping line off my reel, along with the heavy thrashing and head shaking, attempting to dislodge my Gamakatsu hooks from their dentures. Meanwhile, the comprehensive options for July are mind-boggling. Ilwaco, Westport, La Push, Neah Bay, Sekiu, Port Angeles, Freshwater Bay, the San Juans, Port Townsend, Kingston, Pt. No Pt. and Possession Bar will all have fish. The ingredients for anglers to go are driven by time and money. Get my drift? All about time and money, baby. Pay to play.
With so many options available this month to catch salmon, the answer to the where part of the equation is challenging. I have learned, along with many other veteran salmon anglers, that every year seems to have a different answer to that question. For example, in north Puget Sound, which opens on July 16th, good chinook salmon haunts such as Mid-Channel Bank, Kingston or Pt. No Pt., have traditionally produced solid numbers of fish. But, in some years, that is not always the case. Clearly, the presence of baitfish (candlefish or herring) will draw the salmon and up until the opening day occurs, it’s an educated guessing game. Immediately following the openings, I recommend diving into the networks of websites including KIRO radio’s Outdoor Line for day to day reports of what’s hot and what’s not. Mark Yuasa at the Seattle Times also provides solid catch results information along with the Puget Sound Anglers websites that will help guide you to the fish. Of course, networking with fishing buddies and other anglers is what most of us do.
July also represents the kickoff to the Puget Sound/Hood Canal summer Dungeness crab season too. The Department of Fish and Wildlife offers seasonal information, by areas on their toll-free hotline, which is 866-880-5431. When in doubt about the Dungeness crab fishing regs, wherever you intend to crab from Neah Bay to Olympia, be sure to check the hotline.
Without argument, this month is about salmon and crab fishing. I’m revved up to attack and 31 days in July is not enough time. Pass the Geritol, XL doses, please. Giddy-up my friends and 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.)