Most overlooked fishery out there?
The whole affair of fishing in the saltchuck for coho and other pacific species has been one of the most overlooked fisheries for it's potential over the last few decades if you ask me. I made my first trip to Sekiu and Neah Bay on the extreme of the Straits of Juan de Fuca in the mid-80's, but it was not until almost 1990 that I made my first trip carrying only fly rods.
While still employing conventional trolling gear for kings and coho, I was shown how to "bucktail" for coho by Ken Morgan, my long-time friend and mentor from Issaquah. Although the halibut wrestling, chinook hunting, and other venues were a blast - the most outrageous part of it all was the surface action for coho salmon which reached into the teens by fall (pounds).
As I transitioned into a stricter flyfishing angle, I was anxious to apply what I had learned to the hunt for coho with only flyrods, and from the first attempt the results were nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, a number of us held our first "Hooknose Conclave" over ten years ago at Sekiu (Clallam Bay, Washington State) using rental boats and fly rods with big bucktails and small candlefish flies and ended up doing something in the order of 20 fish per day (C&R with an occasional fish for the grill) - using fly rods.
Without getting into the details (full story coming up) the tactics include trolling at very fast speeds in between identified packs of feeding coho which are cast to, sometimes even sight cast and led in their boiling feed patterns. The trolling part is not elegant, but because we are fishing a large ocean body it's necessary to locate fish in open water between the obvious riplines, kelp bed edges, and structures where they feed. Essentially it's a time killer that leads to finding fish that are extremely mobile in a giant tidal body that can sweep an idling boat for miles in no time flat. I won't even call that part flyfishing per se, it's simply trolling between active flyfishing opportunities.
The troll is made at incredible speeds - like that used for billfish. The fly should be flopping around in the propwash, literally. The coho can be anywhere and when you don't know where that is coverage is the best medicine. They explode on the fly with a vengeance and the rod should be held tightly or ripped from the hands.
Once you locate a school, it's time for some finesse fishing. I was in a pea soup fog with Dr. Stephen VanSlyke of UW (spectroscopy) when we found ourselves in a bait mass cornered against a kelp bed by cohos none of which were under ten pounds. They were boiling in a pronounced troutlike manner but were put down by the boat. I motored upcurrent in the incoming flood tide and cut the motor completely. We soon found ourselves drifting silently into the edges of the bait ball with big hooknoses boiling in patterns around us. I noticed one ring, then another and landed a sand eel pattern gently about 6 feet in front of the last boil. With three strips a 16 pound hooknose was ripping and tumbling in the air by the boat and the fight that ensued was absolutely epic. The doc and I put a couple of fish in this class into the cooler and headed out to look for others. We ran into Bob Schmelzle and Tony Gades out near the Caves.
They had not found such luck yet in the ominous fog, but it was lifting and we set off to find some action. Along the way I stripped out 60 feet of line and motioned for them to do same. They did, yet could not believe how fast I was moving. They came up alongside to confirm that I was sane, and WHAM! I was onto a nice fish. I yelled over "speed kills - go faster!" coining a highway safety slogan. We all cranked up the motors and were doubling up in no time.
Every opportunity to stop and cast was anxiously taken, yet the speed trolling in between was equally if not more productive. OF course the finesse casting was much more fun. It was a grand time and set the tone for many more such trips, around Bush Point in October, for instance. The flies outfished anything else for fall coho in my boat.
Over time we figured out that you need two rods rigged and ready - one for waking the herring patterns in the motor wash, the other for making accurate presentations to visibly feeding fish.
Another nice surprise was in the evening, some kings and coho had come into the rocky shore of Waddah Island just at the outlet of Neah Bay. The bait was spraying out of the water like you see when tarpon chase pilchard, stripers chase herring, etc. With the boat silently drifting past the shore structure, any reasonable casts made to the shoreline with an erratic strip would be met with a blunt thump and a wild fighting salmon in it's saltwater feeding grounds. Even the kings were eager to grab the fly in these conditions.
Trips made in later years with Brian, my brother, Bill, etc - offers more discoveries about the most under-exploited flyfishing venue out there. Brian and I took turns running the boat past the rocky structures off Slip Point in mid-day sun, hitting coho on every pass. I would run the motor to adjust the angle and distance from the rip forming behind the rock as Brian stood on the fore deck casting to the rip edge; then we'd switch after every fish.
As hinted earlier, I have a photo journal of these discovery trips and will publish a fiull article on this topic soon. I hope to include the many discoveries Brian has made since, and also the insights of Ron Lucas and friends on the BC coast.
Any SW salmon afficionados out there?
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