Editor’s note: The following is Mark Yuasa’s monthly fishing newsletter, Get Hooked on Reel Times With Mark, and is run with permission.
By Mark Yuasa, Director of Grow Boating Programs, Northwest Marine Trade Association
The wheels on saltwater winter chinook salmon fisheries really get spinning in the months ahead.
No doubt this is one of my favorite times of the year to be wetting a line for chinook – often referred to as winter blackmouth for their dark gumline – especially in the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound where fishing grounds are less crowded, and if the baitfish schools are there it’s likely packs of hungry salmon won’t be far behind.
Currently the San Juan Islands (Marine Catch Area 7) are open through April 15; northern Puget Sound (9) and the east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) are open through April 30.
“I feel there will be a lot of fish around (in San Juan Islands) that haven’t been impacted by fishing pressure (since it closed in early fall),” said Chris Long, owner of Jolly Mon Charters in Anacortes.
While blackmouth in the 4- to 8-pound category can be plentiful at times it’s their larger counterparts from the mid-teens to 20-plus pounds that get anglers ecstatic and losing sleep the night before a fishing trip.
Proof of the word “plentiful” is backed up by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) statistics.
I’m a numbers guy when it comes to salmon fishing and the 2019 winter season in the San Juan Islands from Jan. 1 through April 15 showed 6,255 boats with 13,236 anglers taking home 3,761 hatchery chinook and releasing another 2,555 hatchery and 2,563 unmarked chinook.
In the San Juan Islands, target winter blackmouth off Waldron Island, Spring Pass; north side Orcas Island from Lawrence Point west to Point Thompson; President Channel; Rosario Pass; Sucia Island; Smith Island; Tide Point; Lopez Pass; and Obstruction Pass; and Thatcher Pass.
In northern Puget Sound hit up Point No Point; Pilot Point; Possession Bar; Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Browns Bay; Foulweather Bluff; Double Bluff off southwest side of Whidbey Island; and the breakwater off Edmonds to Edwards Point.
Winter chinook are also known to lurk in the waters along the east side of Whidbey Island at the “racetrack” between Camano Head and Hat Island; Elger Bay; Baby Island; Camano Head; Rocky Point; Greenbank; Holmes Harbor; Onamac Point; Columbia Beach; and points to the north of Clinton Ferry Landing.
Both central and south-central Puget Sound and Hood Canal (Areas 10, 11 and 12) opened last month for winter hatchery blackmouth and fishing has been tough coupled with stormy weather. Area 10 is open through March 31; and Areas 11 and 12 are open through April 30.
Seek out blackmouth at Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; northwest side of Vashon Island by the channel marker; points along the east side of Bainbridge Island; Allen Bank off Blake Island’s southeastern corner; Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island; Southworth Ferry Landing; and Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp.
In Hood Canal try Misery Point, Hazel Point, Pleasant Harbor, Toandos Peninsula, Seabeck Bay and Seal Rock.
Southern Puget Sound (Area 13) is open year-round for hatchery chinook and anglers can try areas like Fox Point; Gibson Point; Point Fosdick; Hale Passage; Anderson Island; Lyle Point; and Devil’s Head and Johnson Point.
Looking ahead, the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (5) opens March 1 through April 30, and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca (6) opens March 1 through April 15.
Whatever location you choose take into consideration that early closures hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (the minimum size limit is 22 inches). Therefore, getting out sooner than later will provide ample time on the water. WDFW managers monitor fisheries closely and provide updates on sport-fishing catch data.
Winter chinook tips and tactics
It doesn’t take much to get the winter chinook fishery dialed-in and doing some homework should make your trip a success.
First off, unlike summer salmon fishing you don’t need to on the water at the break of dawn to catch winter chinook as tidal movements and locations are a more important factor.
Top on the list is making sure your fish-finder isn’t glitching out to locate baitfish schools for winter chinook who are voracious feeders of herring and candlefish.
Then be sure to do your homework and study incoming and outgoing tidal movements to find where fish tend to hang out along drop offs, ledges and underwater structures. Remember, if the chinook bit at a certain time of the day, it’s almost a guarantee they’ll do the same the following day only an hour later. Winter chinook usually tend to hug or stay right on the bottom so keeping your presentation bouncing in front of them will likely lead to more action.
Downrigger trolling is the top choice since you can cover a lot of ground especially in the winter months when baitfish schools can be sparse. Anglers will use plastic squids, spoons, plugs or a cut-plug or whole herring along with a flasher or dodger set about 8 to 20 feet behind the downrigger ball.
Mooching with herring or a candlefish can also be an effective way to catch salmon. This consists of working a cut-plug or whole herring up and down the entire water column with a six- to eight-foot leader tied to a tandem 2/0 or 3/0 hooks attached to a 3- to 6-ounce banana weight. The weight size depends on the wind and current but keeping a 45-degree line angle is critical. Anglers who use these methods will often back up their boat to keep the right line angle.
Another technique is vertical jigging with 3- to 6-ounce Point Wilson Darts, Crippled Herring, Buzz Bombs, Grim Reefer and Butterfly jigs in candlefish or herring patterns. A reminder to take off the illegal treble hooks and add Gamakatsu 2/0 and 3/0 style hooks.
2020 salmon season meeting dates
While we’re still enjoying the fruits of current salmon fisheries many are also looking ahead to what 2020-2021 has in store for chinook and coho returns.
WDFW will unveil salmon forecasts to the public on Feb. 28 at the DSHS Office Building 2 Auditorium, 1115 Washington Street S.E. in Olympia.
Subsequent dates are North of Falcon meeting at Lacey Community Center, March 16; North of Falcon meeting in Sequim, March 19; Pacific Fishery Management Council hearing at Westport, March 23; North of Falcon meeting at WDFW Mill Creek office, March 26; and North of Falcon meeting at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Avenue West, March 30.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt final salmon seasons at the Hilton Vancouver, 301 West 6th Street in Vancouver, WA, on April 5-11. Specific meeting agendas and times should be known soon. Details: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/management/north-falcon.
NW Fishing Derby Series slogan is “20 in 2020”
It was 17 years ago, when the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) started the Northwest Salmon Derby Series with the purpose of promoting fishing and growing boating in the Pacific Northwest.
We can credit Dwight Jones, the Elliott Bay Marina general manager and avid salmon angler, for pitching this idea that started with six salmon fishing events in 2004 and has since then grown to “20 in 2020” and renamed the NW Fishing Derby Series that includes a variety of other fish species.
The 2020 derbies kick off in the San Juan Islands (Area 7) with the Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2; Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Each has a first-place prize for the largest fish of $12,000 to $20,000.
Next month is also a busy time with the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15; Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22; and For the Love of Cod Derbies in Coos Bay/Charleston areas and Brookings, Oregon March 21-22 and March 28-29 respectively.
The highlight of the 2020 series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo.
Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package.
Other sponsors include The Reel News; Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet; Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine.
The Northwest Fishing Derby Series promotes boating and fishing throughout the region by partnering with existing derbies and marketing those events through targeted advertising, public relations and promotional materials. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.
I’ll see you on the water soon!