Editor’s note: The following is Tony Floor’s monthly newsletter and is run with permission.
By Tony Floor, Fishing Affairs Director, Northwest Marine Trade Association
Big king salmon drive me nuts: cool, chrome, and, compared to a normal July-August king salmon, a 6-point bull elk!
In Puget Sound, mature Chinook salmon are typically three to four years old, averaging 10 to 20 pounds. Kings over 20 pounds are traditionally the exception, not the norm.
Coastal rivers, such as the north coast, Grays Harbor, and Willapa Bay rivers sometimes entertain five-year-old Chinook up to 30 pounds.
So, now that I’ve put this framework of summer king salmon size into perspective, I received a text a few weeks ago with an attached photo of a 50-pound Chinook caught in Sitka by Derek Floyd, Reel Class Charters. I immediately shared it with a bunch of my fishing peeps and heard several words often used by George Carlin that will never make a G-rating. It was a massive king salmon, chrome as the bumper on a ‘57 Chev and in the prime of its life. It took me to my knees.
Twenty-four hours later, Derek sends me another photo of another monster king, tipping the scales at 52 pounds. Get out of here! How does this dude do it?
As reported in this space in recent years, Derek guides for winter Chinook salmon out of Anacortes, fishing the San Juan Islands from December through April when the seasons accommodate. I have also witnessed his fishing prowess competing in the annual Roche Harbor Salmon Classic in early February. In the 12-year history of the tournament, Derek continues to hold the record for the largest winter Chinook caught during the event, a gorgeous Chinook tipping the scales at 28 pounds. The dude knows how to sniff out big salmon!
When I think about big king salmon that I’ve had the experience to encounter, my top four are 52, 50, 47 and 45. I remember each one of those fish and I named them by size. Let’s see, beginning with the 52, he was Brutus; followed by Walter; then came Moose; followed by Dennis, for Dennis Rodman (can’t explain that one as I may have stayed up too late the night before.) The bottom line, homies, is that big fish are extremely cool and when you catch yours, you can’t take enough pictures. Do it right! No blood, remove clutter out of the photo, level the horizon, manage the shot to get reflecting light off the side of the fish, wear bright clothes, and smile!
On to the Columbia River
As long as I’ve been writing this column, which has to be nearing 10 years, I cannot recall writing in August when I have not gone into spin cycle talking about the mouth of the Columbia River. This writing will be no exception.
Fundamentally, we are at the pinnacle of the annual salmon fishing graph where Chinook and coho salmon runs collide. There are so many fishing options to consider, from Ilwaco to Neah Bay, the Strait, and the San Juans – it makes my head spin. Unfortunately, every day counts and we can only be in one place at one time.
My lower Columbia River fishing experience began back in ’86 during the largest coho salmon return of the century, according to WDFW numbers. The following year hosted the largest king salmon run dating back to 1937. I became a mouth of the Columbia River convert.
To this day, I set aside a week of full blast salmon fishing during the third week of August, fishing between the Megler-Astoria Bridge downstream to the mouth of the river. And, in more recent years, I’ve invested significant time fishing for shallow water kings along the Long Beach Peninsula. Oh baby! Lights me up like a pinball machine spitting silver dollars. Bada bing!
From my perspective, significant skill is not a major criteria to be successful in this fishery. Place and time, relative to tide and current, is very important; along with performance of your terminal tackle or bait. While a variety of spoons has been the new wave to this fishery, especially around the Megler-Astoria Bridge fishery, I continue to invest in my plugged or whole herring.
IAN FERGUSON HEFTS A CHINOOK CAUGHT LAST AUGUST NEAR THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)
I became involved in a major discussion recently with Pam Botnen from Jerry’s Bait in Chimacum about the merits of fresh herring versus frozen. I learned quite a bit from the discussion. Yep, here to tell you that this old dog can still do new tricks! Pam’s theory is that fresh bait produces a strong oil scent, making it very successful for anglers to hook salmon. However, at Jerry’s Bait in Mats Mats Bay, following starving the bait in net pens for up to a couple of weeks, the bait is on trays, flash frozen within 20 minutes after the electrocution process. To her knowledge, there is no other frozen herring packager that can freeze their bait that quickly. This advantage, she says, gives her frozen bait a competitive edge compared to other processors. And, it will and can compete with fresh bait, as the oils in the herring are captured quickly during the flash freezing process. Works for me.
Often, when a salmon picks up your bait, did it attack your bait based on sight, performance of your spin, or was it the smell that triggered the attack? From my corner, I approach the game believing in both factors: sight and smell. My whole or plug cut herrings spin very quickly, with a tight rotation, at a slow to moderate speed. I do not need speed to produce a fast spin. Fast spinning baits at a slow speed has been a wonderful combination for me, especially for slower moving king salmon. Fishing with quality herring and leaving a scent trail also contributes to overall success. That’s my thinking and I’m sticking to it!
So, here we go, into the grand finale of the summer chinook season, with the coho season blending into full swing later this month. We are on the edge of the completion of the summer salmon season when the days are getting shorter and September is on the horizon. I’m headed to the mighty Columbia in a few weeks for my annual king salmon fest, to share some of the best salmon fishing Washington can offer. Put me in coach, it’s time to play! See you on the water.
P.S. – Click here for an article I did for the Reel News on the ongoing Northwest Salmon Derby Series.