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This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Salmon way out west

This year Washington State is receiving some truly decent salmon runs and over the past few weeks I had been hearing an awful lot of good reports about fishing at Neah Bay through the grape vine so I figured that I ought to check things out for myself. Over this past week my dad, my brother-in-law Mike and I found to time to make the trip out this small fishing village on the wild and rugged northwest tip of the state, to see if we couldn't get ourselves into a few salmon. We left on Tuesday, but got off to a bit of a slow start and pulled into the small town of Sekiu in the evening. Conditions looked decent so we decided that we would rent a boat for a few hours try our luck. However things can change quickly on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the combination of wind and tide changes made conditions less than ideal. We still put in a couple of hours on the water, but the only thing that we had to show for our time was one dog fish caught by my dad. We didn't feel to bad when we made the decision to head back in, as between out of the forty some other boats we only saw one or two very small salmon caught. In any case Wednesday was to be the fishing day and this evening outing was really just a little bit of "bonus time" on the water.

After getting off the water we headed up the highway toward Neah Bay to find a campsite for the night and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the coastline.

We got up early the next morning all rearing to go and get some salmon and headed to the Big Salmon resort in Neah Bay, where I had called a few days prior to reserve one of their rental boats. As we walked into the resort there was somebody at the counter in the process of trying to rent our boat. Apparently the Makah Indians that run this fine operation know how to take a reservation, but don't understand the second key point of actually holding the item that has been reserved. While we got there just in the nick of time to keep our reservation for the morning, but they had apparently already double booked the boat and rented it out for the afternoon. This meant that we would have to be back into the harbor at mid-day and put a serious damper on our plans.

With the whole reservation fiasco behind us, we headed down too the docks and loaded all of our gear into the boat, which was just a beat up little skiff with a 15hp motor on it. For what we were doing it would serve our needs though. The weather to start things out wasn't bad with overcast skies, no wind and calm seas. As was we made our way out of the bay I rigged up the rods while my dad handled the boat and Mike took in the scenery. I rigged each of them of up with gear rods, but I would be using my trusty 8wt fly rod, which I decided to setup with a baity baitfish tied onto a 30 foot of 300 grain sink tip.

We started off trolling and within a few minutes I hooked up with a nice salmon, which made a few good runs but was no match for the 8wt. When I got the fish in it turned out to be a nice about 5lb wild Chinook, which I promptly released before getting my line back in the water. However the one thing to consider in this wild corner of the state is the ever changing weather and by the time I got my fish in a fog bank rolled in and forced into shallower water. The main problem with the fog isn't so much of not knowing what way to go, there is GPS for that. It is that you don't know who else is out there and it is no fun to have a freighter that you can hear but not see bearing down on you. However there was plenty to keep us busy in along the rocky shoreline and within a couple of minutes Mike caught a nice sea bass.

Mike's first fish of the trip a black rockfish a.k.a. sea bass

For the next couple of hours we hugged the coast, fishing along the kelp beds and rocky drop-offs and catching several species of bottom fish, including several cabezon, rockfish, a lingcod and even a small halibut. In a couple of the coves that we fished we also had some grey whales for company. These giants of the deep were feeding on krill right inside the kelp beds themselves.

It is a little hard to see but there is a Grey whale in this photo. Look for the plume where it was blowing air.

By mid-morning the fog lifted a bit and we were finally able to head out to the deeper water behind Tatoosh Island to try for some salmon again if only we could find them. Luckily for us this did not take long at all. In fact my line had been in water for 30 seconds tops when a fish absolutely crushed my fly. This was a strong fish and within seconds he was into my backing and doing cartwheels while he was at it. After a heated battle I brought this robust 8lb wild coho to the boat, released him and got back to it. Thankfully this fish wasn't a fluke either and the fishing continued to be red hot and within a couple minutes my dad and brother-in-law doubled up, with one fish being another wild coho and the other being a nice hatchery fish.

My dad with a nice hatchery coho bound for the BBQ, while Mike's wild fish sneaks a peak.

Looking towards the foggy Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island

While my dad picked up a hatchery fish here, we ended up having a very hard time getting many hatchery fish as the wild fish were outnumbering them about 10 to 1. Good news for Washington's depleted wild runs! Next it was my turn again and I got myself another nice wild coho on my herring pattern.

A wild coho salmon ready for release.

The fishing continued much of the same, with us trolling through a small patch of vacant water before running into another school, which would usually result in at least a double hookup if not a triple. The baity baitfish seemed to be outshining to the bait by a bit and before long there my dad and Mike had run out of bait and so I threw on a couple of flies for them rigged up about four feet behind their 3 oz weights. This setup was worked great and started producing fish for them right away.
Mike with a nice coho on the fly

While the fishing was flat out amazing and we had long since lost track of how many fish that we had caught, we were quickly running out of time thanks to our great service with the boat reservation. We made the call to troll back till the fishing died or we ran of time. The first option didn't seem to likely as within a couple of minutes I tied into another nice coho, which turned out to be a hatchery fish. However the game ending blow was coming but from an unexpected source. Shortly after I got my hatchery fish, Mike hooked into a very nice fish. From the second this fish grabbed his fly it didn't stop. I saw the fish thrash on the surface at about 100 yards behind us, then a few seconds later I heard a pop and saw a shocked Mike and an empty spool on his reel. My best guess would be that this was a big Chinook but we will never know for sure. From what I could tell it was a minimum of twenty pounds and was quite the fish to be capable of a spooling. I any case we made the call not to continue fishing and made it back to the dock right at the end of our allotted time.

A nice hatchery coho on the baity baitfish

A shot of the coastline on the way back in to the bay


mike doughty said...

nice work! looks like plenty of good eatin' fish

Anonymous said...

Nice work Gary. Some beautiful fish and beautiful scenery (we don't get fog this time of year, so it looks nice right now, but ask me again in February and March--not so nice).