Thanks to rseas from NWFR I got to catch my first Atlantic salmon.
After hearing of the pen disaster I was curious to check these fish out first hand. So Randy graciously offered to take myself and my friend Robbie out to see and fish the area. We launched at 6:45am and ran over to Cypress Island.
First impressions – kinda like Hoodsport. Lots of boats anchored up close to shore casting, and nets strung out all over the place. We anchored and tried a couple spots but didn’t see much in the way of fish being caught or jumping so decided to do a little exploring. First stop, the west shoreline of Guemes Island.
As we approached the shoreline we noted jumping fish and I got my first close-up look at an Atlantic salmon as one jumped twenty feet off our boat. Very impressive size and shiny bright – I was pumped! We drifted along and tried a few methods. Randy cast a one ounce Point Wilson type dart, I tried power bait nugget under a float, and Robbie tried twitching a jig. There were more jumpers and Randy hooked up but lost a fish. After a half hour Randy decided to again move us, this time back to Cypress Island.
We worked the west side of the island, away from the net crowds and soon found an active shoreline with lots of jumping fish. It didn’t take too long and Randy had our first fish in the boat. No deformed mouth or fins, it looked like a very nice healthy eight pound salmon, albeit with some odd markings not seen too often in these here parts…
Having watched Randy hook up several times he set Robbie and I up with darts and it wasn’t long before we started getting hook ups. Robbie caught a nice fish, and then my turn, a smaller 4-5 pound fish.
Soon afterward we were in a group of four boats working over schools of fish that were heading along the shoreline with the tide. We were in 10-30 feet of water. The waves of fish could be seen jumping out of the water, getting ever closer. Then, once in casting range it was a simple matter of casting, letting the jig sink and doing a few twitches. The salmon would hit on the down flutter as you might expect. These fish are very aggressive when they are on! At one point a school of around 30-40 fish was boiling the surface and anglers from all four boats had fish on. I have to say it was awesome to see and be a part of.
The Atlantic salmon are pretty big, 6-10 pound fish. They hit the jig hard and give a couple strong runs but wear out quickly for a fish that size. That said, they are fun to catch and very willing to bite when in swarms of fish. As high tide came they definitely stopped biting for us. We decided to not fish through to the outgoing tide. Our final count was eight in the boat, 4 for Randy and 2 each for Robbie and myself. All in all a very satisfying and successful first try at these fish.
Now for the $64,000 question - I know these fish have been getting a lot of bad press from anglers regarding the table fare. I fileted a fish and grilled it this evening, the same as I would any other salmon.
So how did the fish taste?
First off, the flesh is indeed pale, kind of like an aging pink. The meat is firm. Filleting the fish I found the skin to be thick and tough. The bones around the rib cage were challenging to filet smoothly. On the grill they do not bubble up much fat oil. Also, I noticed a more significant blood line than on a Pacific salmon.
And how was the taste you ask? Well, it reminded me how fortunate we are to be able to eat fresh pacific salmon. The taste was pretty bland and a bit muddy. It just didn’t taste “right”. It was like going to a cheap buffet and picking the salmon, very non-descript. In short, it was not something I would willing chose again. My original plan was to share with my Montana in-laws. I’ve decided this would be very unfair of me. Instead, Plan B, I will be smoking the fish and see how it tastes that way. If the table fare is still marginal my two dogs will be more than happy to eat it I’m sure.
Should you have a chance, go grab some of these fish and help get them out of our waters. As interesting as the experience was, they definitely need to be removed. Hopefully we don’t have a Jurassic Park on our hands.