On the hunt year-round: A month-to-month guide to Washington salmon

The region offers salmon anglers fishing opportunities all year

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comJune 8, 2014 

Salmon live a nomadic life. Beginning their life in the gravel bed of some stream, they eventually migrate to the ocean where they cruise the blue depths of the vast Pacific Ocean in a hunt for food. Then, when the urge to spawn cannot be ignored, they return to their natal waters to complete the cycle.

Salmon anglers are a nomadic bunch as well. This time of year, they can be seen hauling their boats to ports such as Westport and Ilwaco, in hopes of catching some early season chinook. As the season progresses, they’ll move to places such as the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands.

Other anglers will spend their summer and fall chasing salmon as the fish head up rivers including the Skagit, Green, Puyallup and Nisqually.

Through the winter, the waters of Puget Sound offer a chance to hook immature chinook, better known as blackmouth.

By next spring, anglers are chomping to hook a fat spring chinook on the Columbia River.

All in all, it is fairly easy for South Sound anglers to chase salmon 12 months a year. With the help of some local experts, we’ve put together a month-by-month look of when and where to fish.


The early season action for ocean hatchery chinook in Marine Area 2, taking place now, is often good in the waters between Westport and Ocean Shores. John Keizer of saltpatrol.com recommends looking for small schools of chinook in fairly shallow water, about 30-60 feet deep.

Tacoma anglers don’t have to go far to find chinook, with the new season in Marine Area 11 just a week old. Some of the best locations in Area 11 are the shelf between the clay banks and Point Dalco, as well as Point Evans, said Art Tachell at Point Defiance Boathouse. “We’ll have peaks and valley, where we have decent fishing for two or three days and then slows down for a few days, and then picks back up,” Tachell said.


For ocean anglers, this is the month to fish from Neah Bay. The catch of chinook and coho typically peaks in the second and third week of the month. Late in the month, the action shifts to the waters of Westport and Ilwaco.

This also is the month the action starts to pick up for anglers who prefer inland waters. The waters at the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca will fish very well during the first three weeks or so. Anglers can catch a mix of chinook and coho, with state creel samples showing a consistent average of a fish per person checked.

By the second week or so, chinook will make their first appearance in Puget Sound, with the action starting in the Port Angeles-Port Townsend area, slowly moving south to the Tacoma Narrows. “As the month progresses, it gets better,” said Ron Adams of Verle’s Sports Center. Hood Canal will see a brief run of chinook at the beginning of the month, and then by the last week of July there is a bunch of fish there, Adams said.

As you get late in the month and moving into August, the fall chinook should be found in the Tacoma area. Trolling the Gig Harbor shoreline up to Point Evans and off the Girl Scout camp are good options, Tachell said.

For anglers who prefer fishing for sockeye salmon in a lake, mid-July might be the time for a trip to Baker Lake. The preseason run forecast of 35,000 fish should be large enough to hold a fishery this summer. While more popular, a similar fishery in Lake Washington is not expected to take place. The sockeye forecast is about 167,000, far below the minimum return of 350,000 sockeye needed to consider opening a recreational fishery in the lake.


This is the time of year to hit the Ilwaco area for coho. Anglers will head out to the ocean or try their luck inside the mouth of the Columbia River during the Buoy 10 fishery. The action typically peaks in the early to middle of the month. With a forecast of 964,000 fish headed back to the Columbia River — three times as many as in 2013 — this year’s coho action should be very good.

The chinook action in the Skokomish River is typically very good when it opens, Adams said. This year, the river is slated to open Aug. 1.

A lesser known fishery, but one still capable of producing some large chinook, is Willapa Bay. The action usually hits it peak in the middle of the month.

Coho anglers on Puget Sound will see the action pick up starting in mid month and running through late September. With forecasts calling for good returns this year, Tachell said this would be a fishery worth targeting.

Sockeye anglers might want to make a trip to the San Juan Islands. With a forecast of 30 million sockeye returning to British Columbia’s Fraser River, many of those fish will pass through the San Juans.


This is when the coho fishing in Puget Sound should really take off. Tom Nelson of salmonuniversity.com said he expects this year to be very good, with lots of fish weighing around 15 pounds and some reaching 20 pounds. “When the coho smolt came down out of the river, they were able to eat the rotting humpy carcasses,” Nelson said of the coho spawned four years ago. “They go out into the ocean in better shape and survive better. So when they come back four years later, they are typically bigger and there’s more of them.”

As the Washington State Fair approaches, that is the time to be on the Puyallup River. Chinook will return starting in August, while the coho come back this month and continue into October.

Around the middle of the month, chum salmon will start entering Hood Canal. Many of them are headed to the Hoodsport Hatchery, which attracts plenty of shore-based anglers. “Pound for pound, I think chum salmon are some of the hardest fighting fish,” Nelson said. “We’ll ride around in our boat until we see them jumping and then start fishing. They are very prone to hit things (lures, flies) that are green. Smoked, they are probably as good as any salmon there is because they have so much oil.”

This also is the month to start fishing the “S” rivers of the North Sound for chinook. Popular waters include the Skagit, Stillaguamish, Snohomish and Skykomish rivers.


South Sound anglers will be catching some blackmouth in the area. But Marine Area 9 (Seattle) has been the hot spot for blackmouth the last few years. Blackmouth are immature chinook salmon that stay in the Sound. While generally smaller than their ocean-going cousins, they still can top 20 pounds. The fishing will start out in the South Sound and then the fish will migrate north during the winter.

The action on the rivers around Montesano usually picks up this time of year. Anglers on the Chehalis, Satsop and Wynoochee can chase chinook, coho and chum (in some rivers) now through the end of the year.

If you want to try to hook a coho without a boat or standing in the water, head to the Westport boat basin. Early each fall, the salmon return to the harbor where they were planted several years before. You can fish for an hour, or all day, and come home with a tasty coho.


This is when South Sound rivers and streams, such as Kennedy Creek and Minter Creek, start to fill up with chum salmon. Both places can attract a crowd because they are fairly small and the fishing can be fairly easy.

Over on the Skookumchuck River, anglers will start to see coho returning.


The Nisqually River is the place to look for chum salmon. Anglers can also catch the end of the coho run in the Tilton and Humptulips River.


While this is not prime salmon fishing season, the waters on the east side of Whidbey Island, Marine Areas 8-1 and 8-2, are fairly productive for winter blackmouth this time of year and into Februrary.


Later in the month, and into March, chinook fishing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a good choice. Marine Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) also is a good option this time of year. Early in the month, the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on San Juan Island kicks off the salmon derby season.


March and April should be the peak of the year for blackmouth fishing, especially in the North Sound, in terms of numbers and size of the fish. “As the year goes on, the fish that is barely legal in December, by the time April rolls around, you’re talking about a fish that weighs 14-15-16 pounds,” Nelson said. He said to look for the fish within 10-15 feet of the bottom because they have been feeding on smelt.

Many salmon anglers will point their rigs south and head to the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam. Many people consider a Columbia springer the best eating salmon. While the rewards can be great, this can be a challenging fishery. River conditions can be impacted by spring runoff upstream, making the river high and muddy when the fishery opens.


River anglers will often head to the Cowlitz River to try their luck for a spring chinook. The fishing is good now through early June. The action seems consistently best just downstream from the barrier dam near the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery.

On the Olympic Peninsula, while better known for steelhead, the rivers offer a chance to hook a salmon. April and May are good times to fish the Quilayute amd Sol Duc rivers for chinook.


While many salmon fisheries are shut down, the Chehalis River is a good option for spring chinook.

Another option is the lower Yakima River. If the return is large enough, the lower stretch is open for chinook fishing throughout much of the month. Some of the most consistent catches come from the stretch below Roza Dam.

And put a note in your calendar for August 2015. That is when the pink salmon should make their return to South Sound waters like the Green, Puyallup and Nisqually rivers.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors theolympian.com/adventure

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