One of the beauties of writing this monthly column is being able to pick and choose the content and let ‘er rip.
In the 13 years I’ve locked myself into my office for this monthly assignment here at Chateau Floor, staring at the computer screen, I allow my thoughts to produce words which ultimately, I hope, resonate with readers who might share the passion I breathe about the natural world.
Over the span of forty years working the fishing scene, which requires inhaling and exhaling saltwater fishing here in the Pacific Northwest, along with other fantastic places on this planet, it has been my professional and personal life. Do you think it’s a result of the way I’m living or what I’m stepping in? Bet heavy on the latter.
If I’m sounding a little melancholy in this writing, it’s because I am. Next month’s column will be a wrap on this endeavor as I prepare to enter the next chapter of my life - retirement.
It’s a little challenging for this cat to think about that change, starting with facing the reality of having to pay for my fishing addiction! Was that thud the sound of you dropping to your knees, babbling the words of mercy for poor Tony? I hope not. Or, might it have been the sound of jumping up and down, shouting elations that finally, The Truth is silenced? Regardless, beginning Oct. 1 you won’t find my columns in public restrooms anymore! Makes me think of Aretha Franklin belting out her famous song R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Summers are too short in the Northwest. Many of us who have this addiction for chasing migrating Washington adult salmon live for every opportunity to get on the water, from Puget Sound to the mouth of the Columbia River, during what I call “show time”.
I’m burning up a cell phone about every week during the summer, making and receiving phone calls, learning about what’s hot and what’s not. Ever seen a cell phone melted in a pool of black and silver plastic? Now that’s a “hot bite” report that spins my wheels.
From July into August, Chinook salmon seem to be everywhere and clearly, some level of luck is involved in choosing the right heading to find the fish. Over time, I tend to stick with what works based on success or lack of success. That’s exactly why I pounded Ediz Hook in early July, followed by my annual trip to Tahsis, B.C. in the second week of the month, attempting to flush out big gorgeous king salmon from the kelp beds. Got a visual?
From Tahsis a few weeks ago, it was on to Neah Bay, fishing one of the most beautiful places in our state, Cape Flattery. King salmon southbound from Alaska and British Columbia are required to clear U.S. Customs at Cape Flattery as they make individual decisions to take a left, eastbound down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or continue their southbound course along the Washington coast. A majority of these Chinook stocks are destined for the Columbia River, scheduled to arrive during the third week of August. Guess who will be there to meet them? Yo! Over here! Come to your daddy, sweetheart!
Tahsis B.C. is known for wonderful king salmon fishing in July and August as longtime fishing buddy and colleague Pat Pattillo joined me to welcome this 28-pound slab aboard.
I’ve enjoyed great success fishing the entrance to the Columbia River in mid-August since my baptism to the fishery back in ’86. While ’86 established the all-time record of coho salmon returning to the Columbia of over 1.6 million fish, it was 1987 that really did me in. The Chinook salmon return back then was nearly 800,000 fish which represented the largest return since Bonneville Dam fish counts began in 1938. Good ‘ol 1938, huh?
In the last five years, the returns have blown ’38 out of the water, hovering around 900,000 to 1.2 million. There is no better show in town than the mouth of the Columbia in mid-August. Just like shooting ducks in a 55-gallon barrel - but not different.
My favorite spot is north of the mouth of the Columbia, about 3-5 miles in front of the town called Long Beach, trolling north and south in 25 to 50 feet of water through massive schools of anchovy. The technique is beyond simple. Tie your mainline to a diver, trailing 6-7 feet of 25 pound leader with tandem hooks, and thread on a fresh anchovy, available live in the Ilwaco boat basin, or a frozen herring. It all works!
I’m applying a fast troll speed at 3 to 3.5 miles per hour to get that bait spinning extremely fast, a tight drag to ensure the hook set on the grab with 13-15 pulls of mainline from your reel (two feet per pull). The results will be a takedown as if you’ve hooked an Amtrak. Big crushing bite, baby!
In the Columbia, I like fishing the “wing walls” on the Washington side of the river beginning early in the flood tide an hour or two after low slack. Green navigational markers are attached to pilings numbered 1 through 7, trolling into the current with 15-17 pulls. Some anglers prefer to hold their position with a downstream heading. I believe most of the king salmon entering the river are at mid-depth as they migrate upstream.
Once the incoming tide has completed about half its cycle, I’ll run upstream to Desdemona flats, immediately below the Megler-Astoria Bridge on the Washington side of the river, or continue above the bridge into Blind Channel. Blind Channel is simply a name applied to several underwater channels where Chinook salmon frequently hang on their journey upstream. In both areas, I’m zeroing in on 20-30 feet of water.
For these two areas, most anglers are using heavy sliding drop sinkers, anywhere from eight to 16 ounces, maintaining contact with the bottom or within a foot of the bottom. Get the net!
I am locked and loaded for major salmon fishing trips in August to the Washington coast. Salmon fishing won’t get any better following this month until next summer, so giddy up and time to make hay.
See you on the water!
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