Washington Fishing Planner, Part Two
From kings to crabs, pinks to silvers, here’s a look at top opportunities in 2023 for July through December
Originally published in Northwest Sportsman Magazine
Whether you’ve made a resolution to get out on Washington’s waters more in 2023 or are looking to try out a new fishery, we’ve got you covered on the places to go that are not only attainable but could also create some memorable angling moments.
Last issue we covered the first six months of the year, and in the second half of this two-part series, we’re looking at top fishing choices and other fun activities from July through December.
One consistent early-summer salmon fishery anglers look forward to occurs about 500 miles upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River between Wells Dam and Brewster. In summer 2022, anglers along this picturesque stretch of river in north central Washington saw good summer Chinook and sockeye fishing from July through August. For the past several years the Chinook season has opened on July 1, but a sockeye fishery depends on in-season updates from dam counts.
Look for summer kings migrating to the hatchery net pens located at the outfall from the Chelan powerhouse plant, where cold water gushes out of the Columbia Gorge into the warmer Columbia. Boats troll along the west side of the river parallel to Chelan Falls Road near Powerhouse Park to Beebe Bridge.
Be sure to pack a medium-weight salmon rod and a level wind reel and use an 8- and 10-ounce sliding cannonball sinker on a chain swivel with a Pro-Troll ProFlash and a leader to a 3.5 spinner or a Brad’s Super Bait Mini with a gob of Smelly Jelly scent.
Those unfamiliar with the fishery can book a guided trip through numerous fishing guides in the area.
What makes this fishery a great family vacation is that after a morning on the water (when the bulk of the action occurs) you can make the short 4.2-mile drive to the town of Chelan, where there’s a variety of wineries, breweries, eateries, farms and orchards, and other activities including boating on Lake Chelan, golfing, camping, and hiking. Also not too far away is the beautiful town of Leavenworth.
This is a period in summer when deciding where to go salmon fishing can be tough, especially when there’s so many options and not enough time to do all of them! I’ve narrowed it down to two best bets, but keep in mind there’s more at play here when it comes to choosing an opportunity.
Since this is an odd year — and not in any peculiar way — one fishery anglers can bank on is a likely robust pink salmon return. While small in stature (3 to 5 pounds), pinks are the fastest growing Pacific salmon species, and they return in bulk during odd-numbered years after spending two years in the ocean before migrating to natal Puget Sound rivers.
It appears that this year’s pink return surpassed the forecasted 2.9 million mark, generating some decent fishing for both boat and bank anglers around the inland sea and some local rivers. The 2023 forecast wasn’t available as of this writing (look for pink forecast to be revealed at the March 3 public salmon forecast meeting in Lacey), but with no environmental condition issues nor a drought or major flooding event in 2021, we could be setting up for another modest pink return in 2023. According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) data, the recent 10 odd-year average total run size for Puget Sound pink salmon is around 4.3 million.
Without getting into too many details, the top color choice for any lure, hoochie squid skirt or jig is pink. Yes, pinks like pink, and be sure once you hear when the seasons are set in early April to stock up on all the pink gear you might think you’ll need before they become slim pickings at tackle shops.
If you were to place a bet on any other salmon fishery in the summer, it would lean toward Buoy 10. Located at the mouth of the Columbia, Buoy 10 is rated as one of the hottest late-summer salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest as millions of Chinook and coho salmon stage here before heading further down the coast or into the big river. Once this year’s dates are set in early April be sure to book a moorage spot in the ports of Ilwaco or Astoria because they fill up quickly. The fishery usually opens in early August and peaks by around the third and fourth week of the month but can be good especially for coho all the way into September.
Prime fishing spots aren’t at Buoy 10, but just outside of Ilwaco at the Wing Walls; Desdemona Sands area; the buoy line off the town of Astoria above the Astoria-Megler Bridge; outside the Port of Astoria Marina to Fort Stevens State Park; the Hammond area; above the bridge on the Washington side; and the Church Hole off Fort Columbia State Park.
Gear can consist of a weighted diver or 8- to 10-ounce cannonball sinker to a KoneZone or Fish Flash-type flasher tied on a tandem-hook leader on a whole or cut-plug herring. Spinners like a Toman’s Thumper Flex, with a blade in red/white or chartreuse attached to a plastic squid, or a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure catch their share of fish too.
After the drought saga of 2015, it appears coho salmon returns to Puget Sound are rebounding, and they provided fair to good fishing in marine areas of the inland sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca in fall 2022.
“I think the Puget Sound coho fishery grade was a B-plus,” says Justin Wong, owner of Cut Plug Charter in Seattle. “We had some great moments of coho fishing, with September being pretty darn good. The shining light to the lack of rainfall last fall was that we caught coho later in the season than we have been the last couple of years.”
The salmon forecasts that come out on March 3 should give us a better look into the crystal ball, but several places should be on your list of where to fish in September.
If northern, central, and south central Puget Sound (Marine Areas 9, 10 and 11) are open for coho, look to Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Bush Point and Lagoon Point off the west side of Whidbey Island; Marrowstone Island; Point No Point, Possession Bar, the waters off the Edmonds Marina, Pilot Point south to Apple Cove Point (named by Charles Wilkes in April 1841 on the Wilkes Expedition for the crabapple trees blossoming around its shorelines) and Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay and Meadow Point north to Richmond Beach; and Brace Point, Redondo Beach to Dash Point, as well as places from Vashon Island’s east side south to the Tacoma Narrows area.
Despite a delayed start to 2022–2023’s fall and winter razor clam digging season on the Washington Coast, this is always one to keep on the radar of must-do activities. The “evil villain” has been a marine toxin known as domoic acid that can be harmful or fatal when consumed in sufficient quantities. Since 1991, when marine toxins were first detected on the Pacific Coast, outbreaks of domoic acid have prompted the cancellation of 26 percent of all planned harvest dates on coastal beaches, including all or most of several seasons, with the most recent occurring in fall/winter of 2022 and most of the 2020–2021 season.
While we won’t know how razor clam populations fare until summer surveys are taken in the summer of 2023 by WDFW, what we do know is the 2021–22 season generated oodles of success, with high harvest rates and participation. The start of the 2022–23 season was also setting up to be equally as good before toxin levels shut it down and eventually reopened in late January.
Razor clam digging is a huge money maker and last season the total value was a record $71.7 million. The 10-year average is $27.5 million for small coastal communities that rely on these opportunities during the lean tourist times in autumn, winter, and spring to help boost their economy.
Squid jigging around Puget Sound is a fun activity that doesn’t require a lot of fishing gear and can be enjoyed by everyone from a pier or on a boat. Migrating squid usually make an early appearance from September to October, but primetime is December through January. Squid jigging mainly is a night-time affair during a flood tide, as squid are attracted to lights beaming off the public piers. When fishing from a boat or pier many hang powerful lanterns just above the water’s surface to attract squid.
As for gear, try a 7- to 8-foot trout fishing rod and a spinning reel strung with light braid of, say, 5- to 6-pound test to help detect the subtle taps of squid. Use weighted luminous or light-up plastic jigs in pink, chartreuse, blue, red, green, or orange. The jigs don’t have “hooks” and instead have upward-slanting sharp prongs. This means when you have a squid on your line keep steady pressure and don’t reel up quickly.
Unweighted lures are also used by squid jiggers that attach to a 1-ounce weight. The WDFW website has more information on catching squid.
While summer crabbing takes all the limelight, many anglers agree the winter season on Puget Sound is a more enjoyable time to be on the water and has less fishing pressure. It is also a time when Dungeness are highly sought after for their firm meat that provides a tasty holiday feast. Winter crab catch rates are often better, and it keeps folks busy when other saltwater fishing options are minimal.
Winter seasons for several marine areas of Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca are announced in late September or early October and usually the season is open daily through Dec. 31. Coastal areas are also open year-round, and the Columbia River estuary has become increasingly popular late in the year. Before you go, be sure to check the regulations.
(Mark Yuasa is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communications manager and longtime local fishing and outdoor writer. You can find it published in the January issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.)