by John Kruse, October 05, 2019
It’s no secret fishing opportunities in Puget Sound have taken a big hit in recent years. First, rockfish populations plummeted and the opportunity to catch and keep them ended. Lingcod seasons are short in duration (May 1st through June 15th) and salmon seasons open and close in the various marine areas on a continual basis these days due to low abundances of Chinook salmon in much of the Salish Sea.
So, what’s an angler to do? Well, there are always bottomfish. Many anglers immediately think of cabezon, a huge sculpin like fish that is tasty but won’t win any beauty contests. The other problem with cabezon is that most of its weight is in its head, leaving not much to fillet unless you have a sizeable fish. And while Cabezon season lasts longer (May 1st through November 30th) there are still six months out of the year where you can’t fish for these bottom swimmers either.
Fortunately, there are other bottomfish you can target all year long in Puget Sound. There are several species found in our State’s waters but in particular, try going after kelp greenling, rock sole, pacific sand dab and starry flounder. The three latter flatfish species are often just referred to as flounder by those who catch them off sandy or gravel bottoms while kelp greenling are found, as the name implies, near kelp beds as well as around piers and rocky structures.
Greenling and flounder are not big fish…Think 12 to 18 inches here, but the daily limit is plentiful. The state record for the kelp greenling and the rock sole is just under 4 ½ pounds and the largest starry flounder taken in our state was caught in 2009 in the waters off of Clallam County; a halibut sized 9 ½ pound fish.
Catching flounder and greenling is a whole bunch of fun, especially on light tackle. It also makes for a great family outing. No fancy rods, reel or tackle are needed here. Simply get out a bass fishing rod and spool the reel with 8 to 12-pound test. After that tie a lure on or bait a plain hook with a small herring or anchovy and drop it towards the bottom. You’ll often be fishing in depths of 30 to 50 feet, sometimes as deep as 120 feet for these species, and the bites can come fast and furious on a good day.
Jigging spoons like a one- ounce Mack’s Sonic Baitfish or Point Wilson Dart are very effective lures that you work vertically just off the bottom. One to three-ounce lead head jigs with a curly tail plastic grub on them also work very well. As for color? Some guides say it doesn’t matter. Tom Burlingame, the owner of Excel Fishing Charters out of Neah Bay, targets bottomfish with unpainted lead jigging spoons. Others, like Bob Loomis with Mack’s Lure in Wenatchee, swears by the white Sonic Baitfish with black stripes. Still others use jigging spoons that are blue and chrome or green and chrome to simulate the bait the fish are after. As for curly tail grubs? White and chartreuse are favorite colors for many.
What about the status of these fish as far as numbers go? Robert Pacunski is a groundfish research scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He says that unlike many other fish species in the Sound, greenling and flatfish populations are stable and they don’t receive much fishing pressure.
When it comes to greenling and flatfish, Pacunski says “Get out and enjoy! They are good to eat, fun to catch, and they are a plentiful resource.” If you are looking for these species of fish Pacunski suggests Marine Area 7, particularly the west side of San Juan Island which has “super productive habitat”. Another part of the Sound to try are in the waters off the Olympic Peninsula, especially where kelp beds are present.
Pacunski does sound a note of caution though when it comes to following the regulations. For example, unless you are fishing off a pier or off shore you’ll need to have a rigged descending device with you. This is because there’s a good chance you’ll catch a rockfish while targeting these other species and a descending device allows you to release the rockfish at depth where they can survive.
You are allowed to keep up to 15 bottomfish (greenling and flounder) a day. The daily limit for lingcod and cabezon is one fish from each species when the season for them is open. Find additional details in the latest published Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet.
John Kruse – Host and producer of Northwestern Outdoors and America Outdoors Radio
www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com