by Mike Carey, September 06, 2017
There’s an old adage that when one door closes another opens. In this age of fishery closures I think it rings very true for anglers. We have limited options, but that doesn’t mean we have no options. Nowhere is this truer than for this falls Puget Sound coho fishery. As any salmon angler around Puget Sound knows, Area 9 is closed for boat angling for coho. Per WDFW, the reason for this action is to protect expected low runs of wild coho and pink salmon returning to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers. But right next door, Area 10 is open for clipped coho. This presents a unique opportunity for anglers targeting coho. What is that opportunity you ask?
Area 10 is on fire with coho salmon!
My wife JoAnn and I recently launched our boat out of the Edmonds Marina and instead of turning north, we headed south, toward the oil docks. What we found was some impressive coho action that we certainly did not expect. And reports coming in to our web site, NorthwestFishingReports.com, from other anglers confirms it - this could shape up to be an outstanding year for coho fishing in Area 10. The two days we went out resulted in limits for us, the second day it took just an hour to catch a limit of coho. In the two days we fished we only ran into one unclipped fish. I have a couple theories for our success and also some observations that may help improve your success rate if you fish Area 10.
First, the reason I think this will be an outstanding Area 10 coho fishery. Pretty simple, these fish have hit Area 9 and passed through without being targeted. All those fish that would have been caught as they swung through Area 9 instead got a free pass to head south. (This also bodes well for our terminal fisheries of Lake Washington, the Green River). So anglers in Area 10 are getting a shot at fish that are ready and willing to bite and haven’t seen our gear since they left the Strait of Juan De Fuca. They are growing bigger and more aggressive as they head south to their natal destinations.
What are some of the locations anglers should be targeting? I would say follow the boats, but in this case I’m suggesting you stay away from the boats. Oh, there are the usual haunts to use as starting points. The waters just off the ferry terminal at Edmonds, south to the oil docks, Richmond Beach, Meadow Point, and Shileshole will all produce. On the west side Apple Cove Point (south), Kingston, and Jefferson Head are all well known. In addition, Elliot Bay, but check to make sure it’s open (as I’m typing this it is).
As my wife and I caught our easy limits we watched boats around us. We saw nets coming out and fish being caught in decent numbers. That said, there are a few things you can do to increase your success rate.
First off, as noted above, don’t fish in the fleet.
Coho in the Sound are traveling all over as they make their way south. They will concentrate around points because that is where bait can become concentrated, but in the travel lanes they will be all over. So ask yourself, “do I want to fish with seventy five of my close friends or do I want to move 300 yards away and have the water to myself?” I know how I answer that question. I admit its human nature to hang out in a group. That’s why we live in cities. But when it comes to coho fishing in open water you’ll do just as well and probably better off by yourself. Plus it makes it a lot easy to swing back on these fish as they are not loners. When you catch one you should know there are likely a half dozen swimming along.
Let’s talk about another factor that I think many anglers don’t focus on – speed. A few years back I ran a Go Pro off my downrigger ball to film some underwater coho action. (you can watch this video on our YouTube page, just search for “Puget Sound Underwater Coho” on YouTube). The most striking thing I saw on this footage was the response coho had to getting the flasher to fully rotate. If the flasher did a wave back and forth or an occasional rotation the salmon would just swim behind and watch. But when the speed increased and that flasher went into full rotation mode it was “game on” as the coho suddenly became more excited with the followers suddenly darting back and forth until one committed and hit the bait. Watching the action I became convinced that speed is critical in improving your success rates on coho salmon. That’s not to say you can’t catch coho trolling slower and many do, but I think you’ll do better going fast. How fast? We troll 3.1-3.3 mph into the tide flow and 3.4-3.9 mph with the tide. The difference in speed is because trolling into the tide activates your flasher, like pulling a plug in the river, the plug dives easier into the current. Trolling with the flow of the tide means your boat is being pushed along by the tide so you need more speed to activate the flashers into full rotation. The other thing you need is good downrigger clips and to bury them at least three quarters into the clip. Trust me, when a coho hits at 3 mph it will pop the clip in almost every case. There’s nothing worse than clipping too light and having to constantly reset your downrigger. It will cause you to slow down which you don’t want.
In addition to fast trolling my boat has an itroll throttle control on my kicker. I bought it from ifish solution’s Alan Hanna. He sold me on the importance of varying your speed. The unit does a superb job with multiple programmable functions to set automatic speed adjustments. Just set it and go. The two days we got limits I had the itroll set to “bump” the speed up 0.3-4 mph every two minutes for 15 seconds. What this does is give the flasher a rotational increase that can stimulate the coho into a bite if they are in “mesmerized mode”, just following your bait but not biting. The speed variation can be enough to trigger a bite. If you don’t have a throttle controller you can simulate this to some extend by doing s-turns from time to time. Avoid the habit of trolling in a straight line at a constant speed.
As to gear that worked for us, we went with smaller 8” flashers, generic medium-sized hoochies in splatter green/glow, white glow, and army truck. We also had good success with an Arctic Fox Trolling Fly Salmon Series in blue. Leader lengths were 26-28”.
In the past we have had great success fishing deep, down to 90-120 feet on the downrigger cable. With a 3 mph trolling speed the sweep back of the cable would suggest actual depths of 70-90 feet deep. This trip, however, we had no fish finder on the boat so set the downrigger rod at 35 feet first thing in the morning and lowering to 45 feet deep as the morning progressed. We also opted to run a Deep 6 on our second rod out 60 feet, which would put that gear right around 30-35 feet deep. This rod saw the majority of the action. There’s nothing like watching a rod double over and hearing that reel clicker scream!
I hope you have a chance to go out and hit this fishery. The action should be good into early October so there is plenty of time to get your coho. Good luck and stay safe.