On my recent trip to Sekiu it was like slipping on an old pair of rubber boat shoes to step onto the rental kicker and have the motor start on the first pull at Curleys. My first time was 19 years ago, since then I've been salmon fishing the straits, Neah Bay, Swiftsure Bank and other spots that will remain un-named just about every year. For the first 12 of those years it was more regular - I lived out there. Still after moving to the other coast I am thrilled to get out again and keep in touch with a fishery that's really become ingrained in my life.
It really hasn't changed much. This is good and bad. Basically the fish are on top at first light and are running down 20-60 feet by mid-morning. The evening, after 4pm, more often then not produces some outstanding fishing on top as well and almost all my luck with feeder chinook has come in the evening on the fly.
Once the fish sound it's time to swap the line to a high density line and modify the retrieve to a snappy jolt with long intervals, using tide and wind to maintain a drift in likely alleys in the migratory highway. It's certainly not as exciting as a popper but I had no problem putting two salmon on using this technique within a few drifts mid-day on my recent trip. When the downrigger boats are hooking up, it's a good time to try this technique.
But you always learn something new, and this year it was the combination bucktailing / surface popper technique that Leland, Brian and Sparky used at first light. They rose some big, thick shouldered hooks to explosive takes.
What Neal, Calvin and I were doing worked well the day before at a later phase before the fish went down for the day, but the first light action was on top or nothing. We didn't start hooking up until the fish went deeper, when they stopped hooking up we started. We were doing a combination of bucktailing to search and casting in alternating swings to the aft into the propwash.
Once the fish started to descend we hooked up, much after the 'greaseliners' had their fun. Then the downrigger gangs started to hook up fast and furious around us. We switched over to the deep drift technique and hit fish quickly.
So in essence, there were three approaches, each had it's prime time and moments of effectiveness, all should be employed in a day's fishing IMHO:
1) first light surface splitting explosive dryline action
2) intermediate phase cast and strip and standard bucktailing mode
3) deep drifting shock and stop retreive
I was only rigged for 2 and 3, we caught fish when the approach was the right approach for what was happening with both. I did not have a floating line but observing what Leland had going in the early hours I tied a striper popper onto my intermediate line and while stripping it to keep the line from sinking BLAM! I hooked, fought and landed a beautiful wild coho that went back unharmed to fullfill it's destiny.
So next year, there will be a third line and spool on the boat. A nice phat phloater for the first light / last light phase of the saltchuck flyfishing experience.
I'll also fine-tune the deep drifter with one of the new advanced high density lines, like Rio's to make the descent into the 'zone' easier and the retrieve from the depths snappier.
My dream would be to spend an entire summer researching that fishery, documenting, mapping trends, discovering, and fishing!
Even though people are getting into it bigtime it's still so untapped, the great frontier for saltwater flyfishermen, really an outstanding fishery on the fly. I remember in the 80's being the ONLY angler at Neah Bay or Sekiu with a flyrod. I'm sure the hardcores were there too but if we didn't go the same day we'd never see another fly fisher. In fact it was common to hear a lot of ridicule from other boats... until the drag went off.
We did a coho clave back in the early 90's, Bob Schmelzle, Tony Gades, a chemist from UW, and I don't remember who else came. We were the only four with fly rods there. We kicked ass! I think we averaged 15-20 fish per angler per day. I kept a hatchery coho in the mid-teens, and there were several. The fish was cast to and sighted, and took on the first cast near the kelp. People looked at us like idiots the whole time. I made it a point to hook up near them if possible if they made a remark
Anyway it was great to be there again.