Whale Pass Report - Fly Fishing Forum
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Old 07-14-2011, 09:57 PM
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Eric Eric is offline
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Whale Pass Report

Coho, Coho everywhere,
Their legions clog the lake.
Coho, Coho everywhere
And no fly will they take.

From the Rime of the Ancient Angler, Book II, Canto 4

To drag out the metaphor, methinks I have an albatross around my neck as I go from one god-awful fishing venue to the next.

The Whale Pass fishery was to be my turn-around. In years past, Iíve hooked these splendid silvers consistently, if not easily, casting small Clousers to passing schools and fish staging at the mouth of the inlet. This year, no.

The fishing here is very visual, Because the schools travel near the surface, they can be seen at a good distance and the angler can maneuver to intercept the fish as they home-in on the Neck Lake outlet. The trick in the past was to cast to the lead fish, make a couple of strips, and if no fish took, wait a minute for the next school to show. Staging fish were even easier. By watching for fish leaping repeatedly in one small area, a school of resting silvers could be located and fished over. Small Clousers (4ís and 6ís) in Chartreuse/White, Pink/White or Purple/White, stripped very slowly on a floating line, elicited the anticipated pull often enough to satisfy even fish gluttons such as myself.

But not this year.

I think Iíve explained this fishery in the past, but, on the off-chance this is unfamiliar to someone, Iíll explain again.

ďSnow Pass CohoĒ is the name under which these fish are marketed, largely in the Seattle area, at the rate of 55,000/per year. These 55 thousand fish all come from eggs and milt captured from spawners on remote island in Clarence Straight. The spawners are of hatchery origin and wild fish and natural spawning are not compromised by this activity. Parr hatching from the fertilized eggs are raised to smolt size in rearing pens stationed in Neck Lake, northern Prince of Wales Island, and more than one million are raised in a typical year. After 14 months at sea, the fish return to the Neck Lake outlet steadily, from mid-June to late July. That is, these are summer run Coho, a rarity in itself, and quality food fish. No natural spawning occurs in the Neck Lake outlet stream owing to an impassable falls. (For those more curious about this operation, see http://www.ssraa.org/snow_pass_coho.htm. Thereíre also a bunch of videos on YouTube, if youíre so inclined.). The returning fish enter a fishway leading directly to a killing, packing, shipping station and are in the Seattle markets within hours of capture.

As I implied above, I arrived at my friendsí home in Whale Pass in high anticipation of twenty-fish days and the sound of a singing reel as an ostinato to my fishing passion.

Things started out well enough. My wife and I got to Whale Pass on the 29th of June, when the area had not had any rain for several weeks. Consequently, the fish were stacked at the entrance, as they donít run up into the packing station unless thereís a freshet coming down the creek. The first morning, Ted and I ran out to the north side of the outlet, where fish were jumping and surfacing everywhere. It was raining lightly when we got there, but became increasingly harder by the minute. I worked out some line, cast a couple of times, and had my first fish, about nine pounds, in the boat shortly after. Slight problem, though, in that we didnít have a priest on board and the fish was hopping and banging around the boat. I wanted fish to take home (they grill and smoke extremely well), and I didnít want the fish to suffer unduly as we boated them, so we went back to the cabin to fetch a priest.

We were gone for about half-an-hour.

I caught no more fish that day and no more fish while the rain poured down.

Although the fish themselves continued to pour into the inlet.

It was unbelievable. I would look out over probably ten square yards or more of active silvers, dorsals above the surface, swirls everywhere, and be able to pull the Clouser/whatever back unmolested time after time. I thought my arm was going to fall off.

I donít know every trick in the book, but I know a few, and none of them worked. Faster. Slower. Fast then Slow. Intermediate lines. Surface lines. Neutral buoyancy flies. Heavier flies. Let it sink. Watch them hit it on the way down. Theme and variations.

The only thing that bit me were the gnats, which hatched in plague proportions.

Meanwhile, the snaggers were having a field day (as they say). Itís legal for anyone (not just subsistence anglers or Alaska residents) to snag salmon in salt water or estuaries. The sporting good stores all sell weighted trebles to make this blood-sport easier Ė a nice low tide with the fish concentrated in massive pods waiting to move upstream, and youíve got the perfect situation for a massive fish kill. On the 4th of July, we counted 48 snaggers at low tide on the entrance bar. All of them were hauling in fish. Dads were teaching sons the fine art. Husbands, their wives. Sickening. (Parenthetically, snag-marked fish that entered the pack station were down-graded as to market value, big surprise. A huge portion are so marked. Another aside: Alaska could raise serious revenue by charging $250 for a non-resident snagging license. There would be plenty of takers.)

This situation is the law of the land, but itís nuts

The fish hit spinners well enough.

This fact really added to my frustration, as a Number 4 or 5 Blue Fox spinner, thrown out by my friend Ted, would get chomped on quite regularly by the same fish that despised my Clousers. Last year, Ted would outfish me consistently with spinners, but I didnít care, as I was hooking a very acceptable number of fish on flies.

Ah, well.

Few people were fly-fishing during the seven days I was there, and when I checked with fly-fishers I recognized while traveling to Ketchikan on the ferry, they all reported results similar to mine. I think I wound up with about eight fish, all told, on the Clousers, for about two trillion hours of hard fishing over literally thousands of fish. Pink/Blue/White was my best color. I actually hooked two fish in one day on that pattern. Wow.

Anyway, I love these fish and Iíll be back next year (if invited). Meanwhile, does anyone know of a farm pond loaded with starving bluegill?

Petri hell,

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Old 07-15-2011, 07:35 AM
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juro juro is offline
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I think I've felt every emotion in the angler's realm while reading this report. You're an excellent writer and teller of a fish tale thanks!

One suggestion that comes to mind is the Miyawaki popper... that thing brings out some primeval inner beast in coho.

I'm sure you will persevere!

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Old 07-15-2011, 11:16 AM
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Eric Eric is offline
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Miyawaki popper??? If I knew what one was, I would have used it. Fact is, I tried no surface flies at all (didn't bring any) even though I know them to be effective on Kodiak silvers. Maybe next year.

Thanks for the kind words,

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Old 07-15-2011, 12:56 PM
KerryS KerryS is offline
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I am in no way an expert on coho fishing in the salt but I have done some inside of Deception Pass for Skagit cohos. We fished clousers and used a fast retreive. When I say fast retreive I mean put the rod under your arm and strip as fast as you can with both hands. Don't know why but this method seemed to be the most productive.

I also agree with Juro, very good writing, I enjoyed reading it.
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Old 07-19-2011, 04:12 PM
OC OC is offline
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Thanks Eric, as always a great report.
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