A beautiful sunrise greets anglers trying their luck for Chinook salmon in a local marine waterway. Photo by Chase Gunnell

Washington Summer Salmon Fishing Preview: Where and when to go, and what to catch

Best bets for Chinook and coho salmon in the Evergreen State’s marine waters as well as the Columbia River

Originally published by Northwest Sportsman Magazine

Summer can’t come soon enough, and while you’ve got plenty of chances to catch some salmon, there’s simply not enough time to venture out into every waterway.

To solve this dilemma, the following details should provide a clearer path in planning out your precious summer vacation time.

Conservation remains at the forefront for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fishery managers, who have carefully put measures in place and crafted fishing seasons to ensure wild salmon stocks of concern aren’t overharvested.

“The North of Falcon salmon season setting process often comes with unique challenges, and this year was no different,” said Kirsten Simonsen, Ph.D., WDFW’s Puget Sound recreational salmon manager. “While shaping the fishing seasons this year, we aimed to be cognizant of both the conservation concerns that persist in the Puget Sound, particularly for the Stillaguamish and Snohomish river stocks, and anglers’ desire for diverse fisheries throughout the region.”

Point No Point in northern Puget Sound (Marine Area 9) is a popular summer Chinook fishing location. Photo by Mark Yuasa

COASTAL SALMON FORECASTS COULD BE A BRIGHT SPOT

“I’m cautiously optimistic for salmon off the coast, especially when it comes to the coho forecast,” said Larry Phillips, the American Sportfishing Association’s Pacific fisheries policy director and former WDFW Region 6 director. “The positive news appears to be ocean conditions have bounced back, so hopefully that’s a move in the right direction. What I am worried about is how quickly we might burn through our quotas, especially if we see the coho return pushing a million fish and we get good weather conditions.”

On the coast, coho returns — mainly destined for the Columbia River — take centerstage in 2022 and it could be another spectacular year, thanks to a forecast of 1,225,900 (1,732,900 was the forecast and 1,114,500 was the actual return in 2021). To find anything closely related, you’d need to dial back to 2015 when the coho forecast was 1,015,000. Even if the coho forecast was off by 500,000, it would still be considered a decent return.

This fall’s Columbia Chinook and coho runs are expected to improve over the past few years and could create a blissful summer fishing season from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco and beyond. This is linked to a prediction of 484,900 fall Chinook in 2022, which is slightly higher than the 2021 actual return of 481,300 but below the forecast of 580,800.

COASTAL, COLUMBIA OPPORTUNITIES

The ocean sport catch coastwide quota is 27,000 Chinook (27,250 in 2021) and 168,000 hatchery-marked coho (70,000 in 2021). The “total allowable catch,” or TAC, for ocean sport and non-tribal fisheries is 54,000 Chinook and 200,000 hatchery-marked coho (58,000 Chinook and 75,000 hatchery-marked coho in 2021; and 45,000 and 25,000 in 2020).

Off the coast, La Push (Marine Area 3) and Neah Bay (Marine Area 4) are open for salmon retention beginning June 18; Ilwaco (Marine Area 1) on June 25; and Westport (Marine Area 2) on July 2. All areas are scheduled to remain open until September 30 or until quotas are met, with species and size restrictions dependent on the area.

The highly popular Buoy 10 late-summer salmon fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River is scheduled to be open August 1–24 with a two-hatchery-salmon daily limit (only one Chinook), followed by all Chinook from August 25-September 7. A three-hatchery-marked-coho daily limit runs September 8–30.

Morning sunrise in northern Puget Sound off Browns Bay. Photo by Savannah Sullivan

SOUTH SOUND SALMON OPTIONS

The 2022 Puget Sound hatchery Chinook forecast of 201,059 is slightly better compared to 2021 and the 10-year historical average although several wild Chinook stocks are still high on the conservation priority list. The hatchery coho forecast of 387,722 shows a slight improvement from 2021 and is rebounding from poor ocean conditions seen between 2015 and 2017.

“A strategy for Puget Sound anglers to be successful is being flexible and mobile while trying out new fisheries they may have not ventured to in the past,” Phillips pointed out. “I know that doesn’t sit well with some, but those willing to do it should find success.”

Central Puget Sound’s Marine Area 10 is another decent early-summer option, and it opens June 16-July 13 for resident coho only, with salmon averaging 2 to 4 pounds. For the past several years, this fishery tends to start off slow and takes about one or two weeks for the action to build.

Hit the deep-water shipping lanes between Jefferson Head and the Kingston-Apple Tree Point area; the rip currents around the Edmonds oil docks to Richmond Beach; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; and the east side of Bainbridge Island.

Area 10 then moves into a hatchery-marked Chinook and coho fishery from July 14-August 31. Chinook retention could close sooner if the 3,966 quota is achieved (3,718 in 2021 and 4,100 in 2020). The area then remains open for coho only from September 1-October 31.

For summer kings in Area 10 when it opens on July 14, try Kingston; Jefferson Head; Richmond Beach to the Edmonds oil docks; the east side of Bainbridge Island from Point Monroe to Skiff Point and Yeomalt Point; Lincoln Park south to Brace Point off West Seattle; Allen Bank off Blake Island; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; and Southworth.

There’s a small window of opportunity for Chinook in inner Elliott Bay August 6–9 and additional openings may occur, plus it’s open August 20–31 for coho only, and then follows concurrent rules with Area 10 September 1-October 31.

Another summer attraction is the hatchery-marked Chinook fishery in south-central Puget Sound’s Marine Area 11 opening July 1-September 30 with fishing allowed Wednesdays to Saturdays only of each week. Keep in mind the season length is dictated by an allowable catch quota of 2,816 (2,656 in 2021). The coho-only fishery is October 1–31.

The first half of the hatchery Chinook fishery opened on June 1 but only lasted three days (originally planned to be open daily through June 30) as it reached the 580 hatchery Chinook harvest quota and had exceeded the unmarked Chinook encounter limit.

State fishery managers indicate the two summer segments were modeled separately due to the stock composition found in Marine Area 11 during June and the July to September time periods. Catches during the initial opener on June 1 were very good but an early closure was necessary, since Puget Sound consists of a mixed stock fishery and salmon runs of concern intermingle with healthier stocks.

Dogfish tend to be a nuisance at this time of the year in Tacoma-area waters, and many anglers prefer to jig. Others will deploy downriggers and troll plugs, spoons or a plastic hoochie squid. If you’re brave enough, send down a whole or cut-plug herring, but be warned that you might be going through a lot of fishing leaders, as dogfish feed heavily on baitfish schools in the area.

Look for salmon at the Clay Banks and Owen Beach off the northwest side of Point Defiance Park; the Slag Pile off the Tacoma Yacht Club; the “flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Girl Scout Camp in Colvos Passage; outside of Quartermaster Harbor; Dolphin Point on the northeast side of Vashon Island; Apple Tree Cove to Redondo Beach; Point Robinson; and Point Dalco on the southwest side of Vashon Island.

A location already open for kings, just to the north of Everett, is the Tulalip Bay Terminal Fishery. Fishing is allowed each week from 12:01 a.m. Fridays through 11:59 a.m. Mondays only through September 7, and then Saturdays and Sundays only September 11–26. There could be intermittent closures from July 15-August 15.

Southern Puget Sound’s Marine Area 13 is open year-round for salmon. Look for hatchery Chinook in June and July at Point Fosdick and off Fox Island’s east side at Gibson Point, Toy Point and Fox Point. This area ramps up in mid- to late August around the Nisqually Delta Reach area, Anderson Island and Johnson Point near Olympia. From July 1-September 30, the minimum size for hatchery Chinook is 20 inches.

REVISED CHINOOK DAILY CATCH LIMIT IN MARINE AREAS 5–11

The new WDFW regulation pamphlet will be out soon and one change made was to the Chinook retention limit in the marine salmon fisheries. To remain consistent in Marine Areas 5 to 11, the daily limit will now be one hatchery Chinook in both the 2022–2023 summer and winter fisheries. Marine Area 13 will still have the two salmon daily limit and Marine Area 12 has a four salmon daily limit, consistent with last year.

Salmon anglers try their luck trolling for Chinook salmon at Sekiu (Marine Area 5) located in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca. Photo by Chase Gunnell

NORTH SOUND, STRAITS, SAN JUAN ISLANDS KINGS, COHO

As July rolls around, the focus for summer hatchery-marked Chinook moves to the San Juan Islands, which is Marine Area 7, and northern Puget Sound’s Marine Area 9, and fishing in both will begin slightly earlier than the past several years. A word to the wise: Just like other local salmon fisheries with a set quota, it is prudent to make plans to go fishing sooner than later.

In Area 7, fishing is open July 14–16 only and additional days may be added based on in-season updates. The islands’ Chinook quota is 1,800 (up from 1,382 in 2021 and 1,562 in 2020). Fishing is set to reopen August 16-September 30 for hatchery coho only.

There are many areas to catch salmon in the San Juans, which is a major intersection for kings migrating toward British Columbia or Puget Sound. The difficulty is the diverse underwater geography and knowing where the migratory fish are hanging out. Dogfish can also be a problem.

In Marine Area 9, fishing is open July 14–16 and July 21–23, and then open daily from July 28-August 15 if enough of the 4,700-Chinook quota (4,700 in 2021 and 5,600 in 2020) remains. It then reopens daily from August 16-September 25 for hatchery-marked coho only.

Popular places in Area 9 are Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Point Wilson; the east side of Marrowstone Island; Fort Casey, Bush Point, Lagoon Point and Double Bluff off the west side of Whidbey Island; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Scatchet Head; and Pilot Point.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca off Sekiu, Marine Area 5, opens July 1-August 15 for hatchery-marked Chinook and coho, and the Chinook fishery could close sooner if the 3,890-catch quota (4,077 in 2021) is achieved. Fishing is open August 16-September 28 for hatchery-marked coho.

At Sekiu try The Caves, a ¼-mile stretch of shoreline near the breakwater at Mason’s Resort in Clallam Bay; Slip Point; Kydaka Point; Mussolini Rock and Little Mussolini Rock; Eagle Point; the “Slide” area; Coal Mines; and Pillar Point, where Chet Gausta caught the state record king that weighed 70.50 pounds way back on September 6, 1964.

The eastern Strait off Port Angeles, Marine Area 6 west of a true north-south line through the №2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook, opens July 1-August 15 for hatchery-marked Chinook and coho. The Chinook retention fishery could close sooner if the 6,050 quota (4,769 in 2021) is achieved. The area east of that north-south line is open July 1-August 15 for hatchery-marked coho only. All Marine Area 6 is open August 16-September 28 for hatchery coho. The Dungeness Bay hatchery-coho-only fishery runs October 1–31.

When Area 6 opens on July 1, look for Chinook west of Port Angeles off Ediz Hook; the humps and Winter Hole in the Strait; Freshwater Bay; and Crescent Bay to the mouth of Whiskey Creek.

The entire Strait is the main thoroughfare for kings heading south to the Columbia River and beyond or east into Puget Sound and British Columbia. Successfully finding a prized migratory Chinook, averaging 8 to 20 pounds with some exceeding 30 pounds, will be measured by doing your homework before heading out the door. Study tide tables for optimal fishing periods; choose the right lures and baits; fish the right depths; watch what others around you are doing; look for baitfish schools; and make sure you’re on the water before sunrise — often a peak time for targeting kings. Over the past three summers, Chinook fishing at both Sekiu and Port Angeles was best right out of the starting gate and then eventually slowed down as the season progressed further into July and early August.

In other positive news, the east side of northern and central Whidbey Island in Marine Area 8–1 is open August 1-October 9 for a coho-only fishery. And that part of Marine Area 8–2 south and west of a line between the Clinton and Mukilteo ferry docks is open August 13-September 19 for hatchery-marked coho only. Possession Point and the Shipwreck/Browns Bay locations are usually good for coho in late August and September.

Trolling for Chinook and coho salmon off the southern coast. Photo by Mark Yuasa

HOOD CANAL AND OTHER OPTIONS

A salmon fishery that doesn’t get its deserved attention is Hood Canal south of Ayock Point. This part of Marine Area 12 is open July 1-September 30 for coho and hatchery-marked Chinook with a liberal daily limit of four salmon and a minimum size limit of 20 inches. The areas north of Ayock Point are open September 1-October 31, but anglers must release all Chinook and chum. Quilcene Bay is open August 1–31 for a fishery directed at coho only.

Willapa Bay (Marine Area 2–1) is open July 2–31, and the fishing season will be concurrent with the ocean rules for salmon (Area 2 rules apply). Then from August 1-January 31 the area is open for coho and hatchery Chinook. The Willapa Bay Control Zone closure will be in effect beginning Aug. 1 and the North River Area Closure will be in effect from August 1-September 30.

Grays Harbor (Marine Area 2–2) is open August 1-September 15 only in the North Bay area and daily limit is one salmon and wild coho must be released; from September 16-Octover 31 it is open only in the East Bay with a two salmon daily limit and release all Chinook; and from November 1–30 it is open only in the East Bay with a one salmon daily limit and all Chinook must be released.

There are also other terminal fisheries in several marine areas like Sinclair Inlet, Hoodsport Hatchery Zone and Bellingham Bay, as well as piers open year-round for shore-bound anglers. Consult WDFW’s regulation pamphlet or website for any changes like a reduced daily catch limit or emergency closures.

A comprehensive list of statewide freshwater salmon seasons can be found — along with more detailed marine fisheries — on WDFW’s website. The North of Falcon process and salmon forecasts can also be found by clicking here.

(This story was written by Mark Yuasa, who is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Communications Consultant and a longtime local fishing and outdoor writer. You can find it published in the June issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine.)

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