(This article first appeared in “The Union” newspaper 2015 It has been edited to post here.)
The salt water glamour fish of the West Coast is salmon. They can be big, they are beautiful, they pull hard and taste good. There is a gradient to the fishing quality as you progress up the coast. At times, California can be good, but the ocean is often too rough to go out. Oregon is more predictable with California fish often in these waters. Washington is good, British Columbia is better and the ultimate in salmon fishing is Alaska.
In September 2015, I traveled north to fish salmon in salt water. I skipped past Oregon and landed on the boundary between Washington and British Columbia.
Alaska would have been nice, but the constraints of time and money led me to the choice of Sekiu, Wash. (pronounced: see-Q).
Sekiu is a small fishing village on the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The Strait is the boundary between the U.S. and Vancouver Island, B.C. In effect, it is a funnel that leads from the feeding grounds of the North Pacific to the natal streams that flow into the Puget Sound.
At the farthest north west corner of the U.S. is Cape Flattery and the port of Neah Bay, at the mouth of the funnel. It is the best salt water fishery in Washington. The bay is sheltered but the fishing areas beyond the cape are fully exposed to the North Pacific. More days than not, you need a sea worthy boat and be ready to head in if the seas pick up. It is not an area where I am comfortable going out on my own most days. If you go out on a charter, the fishing can be as good as it gets beyond Neah Bay. There are rental skiffs available here.
In contrast, Sekiu is 20 miles in from the Pacific, sheltered behind a point of land. Yes, the Strait can get rough on occasion but in late summer I am comfortable going out on a small boat. In fact, there are small 16-foot boats for rent in Sekiu.
As a fishing camp, Sekiu has everything an angler needs. You can choose cabins, motel or camping. There are launch ramps and docks for your own boat. Other options are a charter or a rental boat.
From July 1 through mid-August, chinook (king) salmon are the target species. Once September starts, the action switches to the silver (coho) salmon. King salmon are larger and tend to be down deep.The silvers are not as big but are at the surface at first light in the morning. It is common to see them jumping early in the day. What I like about them is their aggressiveness. They will hit lures trolled fast at the surface. They are often attracted to the prop wash behind a boat and a lure pulled just beyond the engine bubbles can get jarring strikes. When hooked, cohos take off on fast runs and with a lot of jumping.
In 2015 I fished with a friend Paul Johns. He has a cabin near Sekiu and has fished there for over 30 years.
I had been tying flies for this trip during August, and I wanted to catch silvers trolling with my fly rod. Landing a hot coho on a fly rod is great sport. Hooking them on my flies was the icing on the cake.
We were on the water at dawn the first day and within the hour we had our first fish to the boat. Most of the salmon fishing takes place a half-mile to 4 miles out from the harbor. There are a number of boats out each day trolling in a seemingly random pattern.
Paul prefers to troll perpendicular to the shore, across the flow of the rising or falling tide when out over deep water.
He will troll with the tide as it flows up and over under water ridges closer to shore. The salmon will stay out of the tidal flow behind a submerged ridge waiting for bait fish to be swept over. We fished the ridges at flood tide but that pattern did not work for us this trip. The silvers were out over 200' to 400' of water.
Early in the day, they were at the top of the water column where a fly rod and sinking line would put the fly in the zone. As the clouds burned off and the sun got high we used a down rigger to get the fly to the 35'+ depth where the fish had moved.
The first day, we landed a half dozen salmon and missed some that came unhooked from the barb-less hooks. The flies that produced were gaudy pink and fluorescent orange.
On Day 2, we were out early again. The swell coming down the Strait had picked up and we spent time fishing the ridge tops close to shore without success. We went back out into the Strait to get our fish.
The second day, it was the traditional blue and green colored flies that put the fish in a biting mood. The rising wind chop and the Pacific swells persuaded us to go in earlier after only two salmon were in the boat.
The 2015 salmon run off Washington was not strong. As off the coast of California, the warm water "Blob" kept the salmon far off shore. The commercial salmon fleet traveling offshore was doing well, but the run of fish through the Strait was down in both size and number. The drought extended up through Washington, and the river flows will not support a good salmon run until the rains return. Most of the fish were 3 to 6 pounds. The big 10 to 20 pound silvers were not there to be caught.
This was my second year to fish the Strait of Juan De Fuca in September. In 2014, I fished out of Port Angeles. Next year, I will be going back to Sekiu.
Yes, Alaska can have better salmon fishing especially in rivers. I prefer salmon caught in salt water. The advantages of Sekiu are compelling. You can drive to Sekiu from California in 15 hours. In a high mileage car, I went one way for $60 in fuel. Dividing the cost with one or two other anglers can make the trip very affordable.
If Alaska is not an option for you, you can go half way and have an excellent salmon fishing adventure.
Mason’s Resort (formerly Olson’s) . Accommodations, camping, marina, store, tackle shop ….
Van Ripers Resort: Accommodations, RV Park, Tackle Shop, boat rentals
Neah Bay: Fishing port at the entrance to the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Excellent fishing, weather permitting:
Fat Otter Fishing Charter: John Dickson operates a 6-pack boat out of Sekiu . He trolls flies for salmon etc. He will go to Neah Bay if the weather is good.