More To Sekiu Than Chinook
True, the Straits’ winter salmon fishery is the prime draw this time of year, and here we detail how to fish it, but don’t overlook nearby bottomfish opportunities.
Originally published by Northwest Sportsman Magazine
Once regarded as a major rest area along the salmon highway, Sekiu in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca has now turned into a much more diverse fishing area.
While the focus this time of year is primarily on prized winter Chinook — also known as blackmouth for their black jawline — there are other abundant fish stocks like black rockfish, lingcod and halibut that’ll come into play during late winter and spring.
“I’m excited about what’s in store for winter Chinook. We had a good season last year and are hopeful to repeat it again this year,” says Brandon Mason, owner of Mason’s Olson Resort at Sekiu. “The nice thing about Sekiu is we’ve got enough fisheries happening to keep folks busy from when it opens on March 1 clear into summertime.”
First and foremost, let’s focus our attention on expectations for winter Chinook around Sekiu, which is open daily now through April 30, and has been producing decent fishing since the March 1 opener. The daily limit is two hatchery-marked Chinook with a minimum size limit of 22 inches.
Sekiu has a reputation for producing larger-sized fish in late winter and early spring, ranging from 5 to 13 pounds with a few hitting 15 to 20-plus pounds.
There is a good mix of different age-class Chinook, but it’s not uncommon to find bigger 3- and 4-year-old fish. In late winter/spring these fish are known to move from Puget Sound to the western Strait of Juan de Fuca. At around this period they begin to sexually mature and eventually migrate back to natal waters later in summer and fall.
One reason for a Chinook’s fast weight gain is a tenacity to feed heavily on abundant schools of 4-inch-long sandlance (also known as candlefish) and large, 4- to 7-inch herring residing in the Strait.
Better yet, you might even encounter a larger spring Chinook migrating back to their final spawning destination. During the 2021 winter-spring fishery in Marine Area 5, which these waters are officially known as by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishery managers, some anglers claimed to have caught more of these larger-class fish.
Access to the salmon fishing grounds — from Low Point at the mouth of the Lyre River on the eastern boundary heading west to the Sekiu River mouth — is relatively easy.
One of the more productive spots, referred to as the “Caves,” is located a couple hundred yards around the corner of the breakwater from the resort docks.
The Caves are best fished on an outgoing tide. Plan to start off the breakwater’s eastern edge in 90 to 180 feet of water (my favorite depth is the 100- to 125-foot contour line). The depth often depends on where the baitfish schools are residing, and once you’re dialed in, start making your way in a westerly direction toward Eagle Bay just off the Hoko River mouth near Kydaka Point. The fish tend to hang along the sandy bottom, so keep your presentation bouncing right off the deck or if you’re marking bait higher up then be sure to follow the schools of baitfish.
The key to success is locating baitfish, so if you don’t find any feed lurking off the Caves, then head east to the green buoy off Slip Point, Mussolini Rock, the Coal Mine and Slide areas, or further east to Cod Fish Bay and Pillar Point. The eastern stretch of Area 5 has been the better spot so far this season, but that doesn’t mean the bite won’t pick up elsewhere.
Most anglers will troll with downriggers since you can stay near or bounce off the bottom and cover a lot of ground using a rotating flasher with 2.5" or 3" Kingfisher spoons, a variety of plastic squids and trolling flies, or plugs. Frozen green label whole herring with a plastic herring head or a cut-plug herring to match the baitfish has also worked well since the opener.
Others like to drift, or motor mooch with herring or use jigs like a Point Wilson Dart, Crippled Herring, Dungeness Stinger or Buzz Bomb.
Lingcod, black rockfish and other bottomfish are good fishing alternatives to fill the freezer, especially when the salmon fishing action slows down.
To the west of Sekiu, Neah Bay (Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh Line) and La Push (Marine Area 3) are open March 12-October 15 for lings and bottomfish, while that part of Area 4 east of Bonilla-Tatoosh to the Sekiu River mouth is open year-round for rockfish and cabezon, and from March 12-October 15 for lingcod.
The western Strait also opens for halibut from May 5–21 on Thursdays and Saturdays; May 27, 28 and 29; and June 2–25 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; and June 30.
On Washington’s North Coast, Neah Bay and La Push (Areas 3 and 4) are scheduled to be open for halibut from May 5–21 and June 2–25 on Thursdays and Saturdays; plus, May 27 and 29 and June 30. Note that each area could close sooner if the catch quota is achieved before any of the end dates.
Anglers should consult the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regulation pamphlet or website (wdfw.wa.gov) for catch limits and restrictions for rockfish (including yelloweye) and other fish species.
Anglers should also carefully read up on personal-use fishing regulations including possession limits and depth restrictions when fishing in waters south of the Washington border.
If You Go
Getting to Sekiu takes about four-plus hours, not including ferry boat ride, from the greater Seattle/Tacoma area.
For those planning to trailer a boat or drive to Sekiu, be aware that two major landslides this past winter on Highway 112 near Clallam Bay and Jim Creek severely damaged the roadway. Work on reopening the highway isn’t expected to be completed until sometime in late April.
The bypass road will only take you an extra 10 to 15 minutes to get to Sekiu, but travelers should use caution and expect possible delays, especially when logging trucks are driving along the narrow road. There are clearly marked signs and lights directing vehicles to the alternate route.
Anglers can also purchase a fishing license to chase salmon and other fish across the border in British Columbia, which is a short boat ride away.
“We sell Canadian licenses and can help anglers with rules and places to catch fish in BC waters,” Mason says. “It is not difficult to get over and back (about 15 nautical miles across) and gives you another option to find fish.”
Anglers who plan to fish for salmon in Canadian marine waters and return in their boats with their catch to Washington are required to notify the WDFW before leaving state waters by completing a form on this webpage: https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/fishing/canadian-trip-reporting.
You may not land both a Canadian and a Washington limit of salmon on the same day (one or the other, but not both).
Be advised that it is not legal for anglers to fish in a Washington marine area if there are fresh fish onboard not legal to retain in that area — even if they were caught in a different marine area. A common scenario during springtime in Sekiu is salmon caught in Marine Area 5 (where rockfish, lingcod and cabezon are closed until May 1) and bottomfish caught in Marine Area 4 (where salmon fishing is currently closed).
To legally fish for both salmon and these popular bottomfish species in the same day, anglers must offload their catch from one marine area before fishing the other. For example, returning to port in Sekiu after a morning of salmon fishing in Marine Area 5 and offloading a catch of Chinook before venturing west to bottomfish near Neah Bay in Marine Area 4. Salmon must still be marked on catch record cards immediately upon retention, and are legal to have onboard during transit through other marine areas.
This rule also applies to certain bottomfish such as canary and vermilion rockfish legal to retain in the ocean waters of Marine Area 4 west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh Line, but not inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca east of that line.
Possession Limit is the number of daily limits per person allowed to be kept in the field or in transit. Washington’s salmon possession limit is two daily limits in fresh form. An additional 40 pounds of salmon may be possessed in frozen or processed form (see regulations for definitions). For halibut, the possession limit is two halibut, regardless of where they are taken. No more than one daily limit of halibut may be possessed aboard a fishing vessel.
There are several fishing resorts at Sekiu offering amenities, moorage, fuel, and accommodations with an awesome view of the Strait.
(Editor’s note: This story was written by Mark Yuasa, who is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Communications Consultant and is a longtime local fishing and outdoor writer. You can find it published in the March issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.)