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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

September 7, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Tony Floor’s Tackle Box filled with fall fishing options


Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for September:

September, the end of summer. How can that be? Time to say farewell to Mr. Chinook and shake hands with Mr. Coho. Dude! Say it isn’t so!

For the last 60 days, my chinook salmon jihad has been on full-tilt boogie status. From Westport, to Port Angeles, then on to Neah Bay, Tahsis, Hein Bank and the mighty Columbia River. It was a king salmon stampede. So many of my salmon angling brothers were on the water too, constantly spanking me with fish photo after fish of happy anglers hoisting jumbo chinook. Hey Tony … you should have been here! But hey, I got my licks in too as the parade of king salmon continued daily from Puget Sound to Ilwaco.

Prospectively, our summers are short here in the Pacific Northwest. And as a result, many of us hit it as hard as humanly possible. The prefect formula is to take the summer off and go fishing. Wait a minute! That’s what I did! It’s just like going bowling, but different.

And having friends, family and neighbors sit down at my table for a fresh king salmon dinner, now retailing at a grocery store near you for about $25 bucks a pound, is Nirvana. Ahhhhhh, moist, oily chinook salmon, perfectly grilled on my Webber, served with a veggie and a salad, sloshed down the hatch with a cool glass of grape juice. Excuse me while I retrieve my eyeballs from the back of my head. Yeah baby, summertime, life is good and the living is easy. Love that tune.

But it’s all history now, as most salmon anglers recover to get ready to do business with Mr. Coho. It’s like leaving the Indy 500 to go to a go-cart race. Not really, as coho salmon deserve a level of respect as a great sport fish following on the heels of the summer run timing of king salmon.

This month, coho salmon become worthy as some of these species of fish have the opportunity to grow to the 12- to 16-pound range. That’s when coho salmon can compete with teener chinook salmon, in my view. Finding large coho this month is attainable, especially if you’ve paid attention to the where and when question during your fishing career.

I divide Washington into three zones for chasing coho salmon: the coast, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. Living in south Puget Sound, all three areas are within a reasonable tow for my boat, as migrating to the fish is an important strategy to be successful. After all, that’s what boat trailers are for!

Out on the Washington coast, making contact with Mr. Coho is like shooting ducks in a 55-gallon barrel during September. From a fish management perspective, the coast is divided into four zones (Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay). Ilwaco and Westport are scheduled to remain open through September 30th, if they do not achieve their allotted catch quota. Pay attention to forecasted weather conditions as early fall storms can keep your boat on the trailer. But if the sea is friendly, go for it. Big, cart-wheeling coho up into the mid-teens is not uncommon.

Further up the coast, at La Push and Neah Bay, their season is scheduled to run through September 21st but again, pay attention to the catch quota within each port’s coho salmon quota.

Neah Bay can be a very special place to fish for coho salmon. It’s the only area recognized for world famous bucktailing, which is a technique of dragging a surface fly, towed about 50-60 feet behind your boat, trolling at a good clip of 7-8 mph. If you’re trolling at the perfect speed, with your rod in the rod holder in an upright position, the fly will skim on top of the water. If the fly is dipping under the surface, you’re trolling to slow. If it’s bouncing out of the water, you’re too fast.

And when the coho come up behind your fly, creating a bulge on the surface of the water, stand by for the grab. Heart-stopping! It’s more of a head-on collision. The rod will go from a near vertical to horizontal position faster than you can say Holy Schnickers!!! Bone-crushing slams! Big fun. This phenomena is money during the first two weeks of September immediately north and west of Waddah Island. Find a rip current and hello, Mr. Coho.

My second area of emphasis is 20 miles to the east of Neah Bay at Sekiu. Hundreds of thousands of coho salmon have gathered in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca beginning in mid-July through August, putting on about a half-pound a week, getting ready for their migration east down the Strait, destined for the stream of their origin.


Traditionally, a big blast of migrating coho salmon will occur during the first early fall low-pressure weather system moving through our state. Regardless, before and after this change in the weather, coho salmon move through the Sekiu area throughout September but usually peak during the middle of the month, or more likely, during the third week of September.

Here, traditional plug-cut or whole herring techniques behind a mooching sinker, or a diver, are a slam dunk. Successful anglers target coho salmon in the top 30-40 feet of the water column early in the morning. Then, as the morning develops, dropping down in depth to 60-90 feet makes sense as the light tends to drive these fish further down in the water column.

My third recommended area to find big fall coho salmon is in north Sound, particularly around Bush Point south to Possession Bar, and on both shores of Puget Sound featuring Kingston and Point No Point on the west side to the oil docks just south of Edmonds and the shoreline north from Edmonds to Mukilteo.

Coho salmon do not seem to pay much attention to the features of the shorelines while migrating to their destination. They are more likely to be attracted to currents and rips, using both northbound and southbound lanes of I-5 to get home.

Most experienced coho salmon anglers will fish depths of 50 to 120 feet to troll for hardware, and gear techniques are dominated today by flashers trailed by hoochies, flies and spoons. Silver Horde Coho Killers earn their name by enticing coho salmon to strike, and quite frankly, almost anything works, including a plug-cut hot dog.

I’m heading out the door for Neah Bay for some of that world-class bucktailing. Come on! It’s coho time … do the coho! 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.)





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