September 1 and my first San Juan Island chinook trip of the year has come and gone. Mike of NWFR and our good friend Robbie wanted me to make another run on the Atlantic salmon that had recently escaped from the net pens off of Cypress Island. After reviewing the tides for September 1st, I had plan and reluctantly threw up an idea for the gang. After I agreed to look for Atlantic salmon at the end of our chinook hunt everybody was on-board and we would start the day chasing San Juan chinook.
A little after 6:00 am, with a wind free weather forecast and a plan we motored away from docks at Cornet Bay and headed for Deception Pass. As we went under the bridge I noticed that there was a 2-3’ swell in the pass but figured it was just the tides in the pass and slowed the boat a bit to match the seas. Approaching Lawson Reef and still dealing with the swell the wind came up. The now 3-4’ swell and wind was creating whitecaps but with a hand on the throttle our little boat pushed forward. At about Salmon Bank the water and wind both laid down and it was smooth sailing from that point.
Based on the tides my plan was to fish the low slack at Pile Point for an hour then head for the west side of Henry Island while targeting single suspended meter marks. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I had run through a kelp patty and there was kelp or trash wrapped around my transducer back under the offshore bracket. The debris was causing an erratic signal with no bottom readings; we would be fishing blind.
Pushing forward we arrived at Pile Point on the slack tide and went gear down. Fishing blind we were fishing guided by my less than functional gray matter retention processes. I decided to target fish that I figured would be suspended and not hug the bottom. Running gear at 40-60’ we got to business. Utilizing my recently installed second set of down-riggers we ran two rods at 60’ and one at 40’. As I got the 3rd rod down and snugged up one of the 60’ rods pops and we are fish on. Robbie was first up to bat but despite his efforts it wasn’t meant to be. Gear reset, the same downrigger pops again and this fish has a solid hook-set. It was Mikes turn and after an extended battle we were able to slide the net under a nice chinook. Not a bad stop; ½ hour on station, three take downs and a beautiful fish in the box but it was time to move to phase two of my plan.
Phase two had been to hunt large meter marks along the west side of Henry Island. The fish finder was still acting up so I decided to fish for suspended fish in Open Bay and avoid a hanging a ball along the cliffs. Gear down and a couple shakers later I was adjusting a downrigger to align with a phantom meter mark on my defunct sonar when the rod starts up with the hokie-pokie. I pop it out of the clip and hand the rod to Robbie. After an extended battle where long runs, highlighted with a surface display was the norm we slide the net under a beautiful chinook. Another shaker and a very nice coho later it was my turn. Wind the crank and with an expert netting job we were done. Boat limits of chinook, a handful of shakers and a coho by 11:00 had everyone feeling energized and ready to chase Atlantic salmon.
We were running the 11” flashers pictured. 42” behind the flashers were a candle-fish fly, a coho killer and a 3.5” coyote spoon. The candle-fish fly and Coyote spoon saw most of the action. We were trolling at 1.7 to 2.4 MPH but on my boat it is more about cable angle than the actual speed. I look for a 60-70 degree sweep and adjust the throttle as required. The big fish happened to hit at 72’ but overall we were running the gear at 40-60’. Whatever we were doing the chinook gods liked us today and blessed us with great fishing. Well for chinook anyway…
After securing the boat and a scenic tour through the interior of the islands we arrived at Guemes Island with plans of looking for a few more Atlantics on the lamb. After circumnavigating Guemes and not seeing any Atlantic salmon we cruised over to the west side of Cypress Island. We fished the entire west side of Cypress with no Atlantic salmon love.
We finally called it a day and headed back to the boat ramp in Cornet Bay. The day was another for the record book with awesome fishing, good company and spectacular scenery.