Central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) opens Feb. 1 for winter Chinook salmon fishing and coincides with the Tengu Blackmouth Derby resuming on Feb. 5.

Tengu Blackmouth Derby will resume on Feb. 5


With winter salmon fishing reopening in central Puget Sound in February, anglers can once again come together and celebrate the longest-running fishing derby on the West Coast

NOTE: The central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) salmon fishery has temporarily closed. For more information, click on this link to the WDFW emergency regulation webpage.

For more than 86 years, a core group of anglers have gathered in the winter on Elliott Bay to participate in the Tengu Blackmouth Salmon Derby, but the COVID pandemic has forced organizers to cancel or modify the derby since 2020.

That is about to change as the 2023 fishing season brings renewed life for club members who’ve decided to restart the derby in conjunction with central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) reopening on Feb. 1 for hatchery Chinook salmon.

The Tengu Fishing Club of Seattle plaque on display at the Seacrest Boathouse (Marination Mai Kai) in West Seattle. Photo courtesy of the Tengu Fishing Club.

The Tengu Derby — believed to be the longest-running fishing derby on the West Coast — will be held every Sunday from Feb. 5 through March 5 with 5:30 a.m. meet-up (6 a.m. thereafter) at the Marination Ma Kai Restaurant (the old Seacrest Boathouse), 1660 Harbor Avenue S.W., in West Seattle, and weigh-in by 11 a.m. at the Don Armeni boat ramp.

The membership fee for the entire 2023 derby is $15 per person and $5 for children ages 12-and-under and the price has remained unchanged for many years. Tickets can be purchased at Outdoor Emporium, 1701 4th Avenue South, in Seattle.

The derby was started by a group of first-generation Japanese Americans immigrants (known as “Issei”) in November of 1937 with about 250 members and was then put on pause at the start of World War II.

Shortly after the war ended the derby resumed in November of 1946 as Japanese Americans returned from internment camps across the West Coast. It has been ongoing in Seattle’s Elliott Bay — except for 2015 and 2018 when the area was closed to fishing and in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID.

The club and derby are named after Tengu, a fabled Japanese mythical character who stretched the truth, and just like Pinocchio, Tengu’s nose grew with every lie.

The derby is held in the wintertime when salmon are often scarce in Elliott Bay, and bone chilling, freezing weather is another common denominator. If that’s not challenging enough, trolling with downriggers, using flashers or artificial lures or plastic baits isn’t allowed.

Derby participants may only use a traditional technique known as “mooching” that consists of a banana-shaped weight and single or tandem hooks baited with herring. The bait is lowered to the bottom and then reeled up to the surface with intermittent reeling and subtle pauses.

Tengu Fishing Club members and derby participants huddle in West Seattle during the early morning hours with the Seattle skyline behind them.

Learn more about mooching and get tips on other salmon fishing methods on this WDFW webpage.

In the early-1900s, Seattle’s Japanese American anglers learned an effective way to fish for salmon by slowly rowing or drifting in a boat with enough movement that their herring bait spun and flashed, and was a technique referred to as “spinning” which eventually progressed into “mooching.”

The derby boundary was initially limited to fishing only the inner portion of Elliott Bay, but in the late 1990s it expanded to include the outer perimeter of the bay. Most recently it grew to inside a line between West Point south of Shilshole Bay and Alki Point on the northwestern tip of West Seattle.

Known as “blackmouth” due to their dark gums, resident Chinook are a component of both hatchery and wild salmon runs that remain in Puget Sound instead of migrating out into the ocean. Anglers may encounter Chinook of various sizes, and these winter-caught salmon are known for being both aggressive feeders and delicious table fare.

The derby produced the most fish caught in 1979 when 127 club members landed 234 salmon, although total catch data between 1946 to 1949 wasn’t documented.

Tengu Derby Fishing club members gather after the derby to swap stories and enjoy a hot cup of ramen on a rare sunny winter day in West Seattle.

During open fishing periods from 2010 to 2020, the catch totals began to dwindle with a low of two salmon in 2020 to a high of 23 salmon in 2012. A derby wasn’t held in 2022 but a club social gathering on Jan. 9 revealed one small legal-size hatchery-marked Chinook was weighed-in for the event.

It has been a while since a big fish was caught in the derby dating back to 1958 when Tom Osaki landed a fish that weighed 25-pounds, 3-ounces. In the past decade, the largest caught weighed 15-pounds, 5-ounces caught by Marcus Nitta during the 2008 derby.

An extensive study of the Tengu Blackmouth Derby and the importance of protecting salmon populations in Puget Sound was conducted by the University of Washington College of the Environment in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Department and derby club members. The WDFW also posted a blog about the research in June of 2022.

The derby coincides with the reopening of Marine Area 10 from Feb. 1 through March 31 but could close sooner if the Chinook guideline is attained. Guidelines set by WDFW include a Chinook total encounter of 7,152 fish, sublegal encounter of 6,295 and unmarked (wild Chinook) encounter of 1,089.

Marine Area 10 regulations include a Chinook minimum size limit of 22 inches and no minimum size on other salmon species. Daily limit is two salmon and only one hatchery-marked Chinook (with a missing adipose fin) may be retained. Release all wild Chinook.

Be sure to check fishing regulations for details or emergency fishing rule changes before hitting the water.



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.