Your 2023–2024 Washington salmon fishing planner
There’s plenty of Chinook, coho and pink salmon fishing to be had in Washington waters over the coming months, and here are best bets. Part I of II
Story originally published in Northwest Sportsman Magazine May issue
The long salmon season setting process known as North of Falcon was completed in early April, so now let’s visualize where to get out on the water in 2023–24 and maybe even try a new fishery you’ve never explored before.
For more than a decade now, Washington salmon anglers have become more adaptable. In other words, don’t keep your boat tied up at one place or your boots planted on one specific shoreline; be willing to move around from location to location to maximize your time on the water, as well as success. Lastly, since several seasons are driven by catch quotas and/or guidelines, it is wise to go on the front end, when a fishery opens, rather than taking a chance on the back end, when an area could close prematurely.
In this first of a two-part series, we’ve got you covered with a boatload of fishing spots that’ll have you hooting and hollering with excitement from May clear through August. In the June issue, we’ll dive further into options for September through April 2024.
Salmon anglers in the Puget Sound region will get their first chance to catch migrating kings at the Tulalip Bubble Fishery (Marine Area 8–2) May 26-Sept. 5 (fishing allowed Fridays to noon on Mondays only) and Sept. 9–24 (fishing allowed on Saturdays and Sundays only). In recent years, these waters not far from the Port of Everett’s big 10th Street boat ramp, have been fair to good for early summer Chinook in the 10- to 20-pound range.
Most bubble fishermen either troll or jig. For jigging, the type of jig used is usually personal preference, as one rarely outperforms another. Color is also by preference, although favorites are the glow, chartreuse, pearl-white, green-nickel, blue-pearl and blue-gold patterns. As store-bought jigs come with a barbed treble, anglers are reminded that they’re illegal for salmon in Marine Areas 1 through 13. Only single-pointed barbless hooks and one line with up to two hooks may be used.
Other anglers at the Tulalip Bubble Fishery will troll using downriggers with a flasher combined with plugs, spoons, and/or a plastic squid. Depth depends, as some fish can be found from the surface down to 90 feet before or at daybreak, but as the sun rises go deeper, to around 125 feet.
Once June rolls around, the doors swing wide open, with many salmon anglers heading to coastal ports such as Neah Bay (Marine Area 4) and La Push (Marine Area 3) for the opening of Chinook and hatchery-marked coho retention beginning June 17, followed by Ilwaco (Marine Area 1) and Westport-Ocean Shores (Marine Area 2) on June 24. All four are scheduled to remain open until Sept. 30, or when quotas are met, with species and size restrictions dependent on the marine area. With decent forecasts, the coastwide catch quotas are 39,000 Chinook and 159,600 hatchery-marked coho.
Another option for Seattle-area anglers is to stay close to home because central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10) opens daily June 1 for a fishery targeting coho only, more than two weeks earlier than 2022. Most of these resident coho average 2 to 4 pounds. Judging from the past few years, success tends to start off slow and takes about one or two weeks 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.
Yet another early-summer highlight is southcentral Puget Sound (Marine Area 11), where angling for hatchery-marked Chinook opens June 1. This fishery is managed under two separate summer quotas. You may recall that the June 2022 season was very brief, three days to be exact, but the 2023 quota is a more generous 1,423, up considerably from 580 in 2022 and 431 in 2021. The remaining Marine Area 11 summer quota is 3,379 (2,816 in 2022 and 2,656 in 2021), and that season opens July 1.
Because dogfish can be a nuisance in Tacoma-area waters, many anglers prefer to jig. Others deploy downriggers or “meat lines” to troll plugs, spoons or a plastic hoochie squid. If you’re brave enough, send down a whole or cut-plug herring, but be warned, you might be going through a lot of fishing leaders, as dogfish feed heavily on baitfish schools.
Seek out kings off Tacoma at the Clay Banks at Point Defiance Park or from Owen Beach to the Slag Pile off the Tacoma Yacht Club; the “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Dolphin Point and the Fauntleroy Ferry area near the northeast side of Vashon Island; south of the Southworth Ferry Landing; in Colvos Passage off the Girl Scout Camp; Apple Tree Cove to Redondo Beach; Point Robinson; and Point Dalco on the south side of Vashon Island.
If Marine Area 11 shuts down prematurely, you can head south of the Narrows Bridge to deep southern Puget Sound (Marine Area 13) spots like Gibson Point and Point Fosdick to target early hatchery kings.
Quick June nibbles and bites: A short list of other noteworthy spots includes sections of the Cascade and Skagit rivers, and the Edmonds, Seacrest Boathouse and Point Defiance Park Boathouse fishing piers.
Making decisions on and finding the time to go to all the available salmon hotspots hits a crescendo in July, but the tips below should help get you headed in the right direction!
One fishery that has stood out for me occurs in northcentral Washington’s Upper Columbia River, from Rocky Reach Dam to Chelan Falls and as high up as Brewster, all of which opens on July 1. The Upper Columbia summer Chinook forecast of 84,800 in 2023 is up from 56,300 and an actual return of 78,444 in 2022, which was the seventh largest since 1980.
A favorite place to catch summer Chinook are the tailrace of Wanapum Dam, the “bubbles” around the mouths of the Entiat and Chelan Rivers, tailrace of Wells Dam and the Brewster Pool up to city of Bridgeport. The most popular are probably off the Entiat and Chelan. Timing is key, as Chinook or sockeye can be in one location one day, only to move 15 miles upstream the following day. Water levels and flows also affect how the fish bite.
If you had to pick one freshwater area here, it’d be just below Beebe Bridge, better known as Chelan Falls. This is a shallow-water fishery with the bottom being around 25 to 50 feet, so keep the downriggers at home. There is a nice boat launch at Chelan County’s Beebe Bridge Park boat ramp and across the river at Chelan Falls Park. Get on the water before sunrise because the salmon bite tends to end by 8 a.m. Also keep tabs on the dam fish counts to know where to be on certain days. For a mix of kings and sockeye, head to areas below Rocky Reach and Wells Dams, or up to Brewster.
Closer to the greater Seattle area, be sure to focus your July fishing time in northern and central Puget Sound (Marine Areas 9 and 10) and the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Sekiu and Port Angeles (Marine Areas 5 and 6) for hatchery kings.
The summer hatchery-marked Chinook and coho fishery in northern Puget Sound (Marine Area 9) is July 13–15, with a chance to reopen on July 20–22 and July 27–29 — the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will assess catches after each three-day fishery to see if additional time can be added. Fishing will be open Thursdays to Saturdays with a 4,300-Chinook quota (4,700 in 2022 and 2021 and 5,600 in 2020).
Marine Area 9 salmon anglers should also mark their calendars for coho. Thanks to a larger than expected return, the hatchery coho season is Aug. 1-Sept. 17, while there will be a Sept. 18–31 any-coho season. The nonselective coho fishery hasn’t occurred in several years.
Look for Marine Area 9 kings at Midchannel Bank and Point Wilson off Port Townsend; Bush Point, Fort Casey, Lagoon Point and Double Bluff off the west side of Whidbey Island; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Scatchet Head; and Pilot Point south along the northeastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula.
In central Puget Sound (Marine Area 10), the hatchery Chinook fishery comes alive July 13-Aug. 31, although king retention could close sooner if the 3,566-fish quota is achieved (3,966 in 2022, 3,718 in 2021 and 4,100 in 2020). Seek out kings around Kingston; Jefferson Head; Richmond Beach to the Edmonds oil docks; the east side of Bainbridge Island at Point Monroe to Skiff Point and Yeomalt Point; Allen Bank off Blake Island; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; and Southworth.
The western Strait of Juan de Fuca, Sekiu-Pillar Point (Marine Area 5) is open July 1-Aug. 15 for hatchery-marked Chinook and coho, though the Chinook fishery could close sooner if the quota of 3,906 is achieved (3,890 in 2022 and 4,077 in 2021). Put time in at “The Caves,” a long stretch of kelp-lined shoreline near the breakwater off Mason’s Resort in Clallam Bay that heads west toward the Sekiu River mouth; Slip Point Buoy; Mussolini Rock and Little Mussolini Rock; Eagle Point; Kydaka Point; the Slide and Coal Mines areas; and east off Pillar Point.
In the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Angeles (Marine Area 6) waters west of a true north/south line through the №2 Buoy immediately east of Ediz Hook open July 1 for hatchery-marked Chinook and coho. The 7,258-Chinook quota in 2023 is much fatter than 2022’s 6,050 and 2021’s 4,769. The area east of the boundary is open July 1-Aug. 15 for hatchery-marked coho only. The best Maine Area 6 fishing spots are directly off Ediz Hook in Port Angeles; the humps and Winter Hole in the exposed Strait; Freshwater Bay; and Crescent Bay to the mouth of Whiskey Creek.
The San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7) are open July 13–15 for hatchery-marked Chinook with a quota of 2,181 (1,800 in 2022 and 1,382 in 2021). Additional openings — July 20–22 and July 27–29 — could occur after the initial three-day opener is assessed. Note that the islands are also planned to reopen Aug. 1–31 for hatchery coho only and Sept. 1–30 for nonselective coho fishing, a change from 2022 when the late-summer fishery was directed at fin-clipped silvers only.
Quick July nibbles and bites: A short list of other noteworthy spots would include Hood Canal (Marine Area 12) south of Point Ayock and the Fox Island Fishing Pier in southern Puget Sound.
When August rolls around and summer quickly begins to wind down, the focus on where to go and what salmon to catch becomes even more critical. Fishing choices are at their peak, and I’d bank vacation time for pinks, kings and early coho in Puget Sound or to make the trek to the Columbia River mouth at Buoy 10.
A robust pink forecast of 3,950,917 — compared to 2,925,681 in 2021 and 608,388 in 2019 — is predicted to arrive this month in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. Pink fishing was very good at times in 2021 and 2019, and this season should be just as productive, if not better.
The trail of bank and boat hotspots for pinks leads from Port Townsend near Point Wilson to the west side of Whidbey Island at Fort Casey, Bush Point and Lagoon Point, with stops at Marrowstone Island, Point No Point, Possession Bar, Mukilteo south to Humpy Hollow, Browns Bay, West Point south of Shilshole Bay, Alki Point and Jefferson Head, Lincoln Park in West Seattle, Des Moines, Redondo Beach, Browns and Dash Points, and the Point Defiance Park Boathouse Pier in Tacoma.
There will also be a small Chinook window of opportunity in inner-Elliott Bay on Aug. 4–7 and additional openings may occur. This is a staging area for kings heading back mainly to the Green River. Good places are the Duwamish Head Marker; in front of Todd Shipyard; both the west and east waterways; off Salty’s Restaurant north to the Don Ameri boat launch; and around the Elliott Bay Marina breakwater.
In other positive news, Port Susan and Port Gardner (Marine Area 8–2) will be open Aug. 1-Sept. 24 for all coho and pinks. If you recall, only the southern half of Area 8–2 was open for hatchery coho in 2022. The east side of Whidbey Island (Marine Area 8–1) will also be open Aug. 1-Sept. 30 for all coho.
A decent return of fall Chinook and coho expected to arrive in the Columbia means Buoy 10 — a 20-mile area where the river’s brackish water meets the briny Pacific Ocean — will be fishing central this month, with some twists. This year’s hatchery Chinook-only and usual hatchery coho fishery is Aug. 1-Sept. 4 (except closed Aug. 21–23 and Aug. 28–29).
Big flood tides are the best time to be on the water, as they push in fresh salmon from the ocean. But knowing where to fish when can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Ideal places during an early morning flood include along the Wing Walls, a mess of old fishing cannery pilings just outside the Port of Ilwaco; the Desdemona Sands area located in the middle of the river above and below the Astoria-Megler Bridge; the buoy line just off the town of Astoria above and below the bridge and just off the Port of Astoria Marina; the three long underwater channels above the bridge along Highway 401; the Church Hole off Fort Columbia State Park; and at Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon side west toward Hammond. Buoy 10 itself isn’t an ideal place to fish, but you can find exciting action for coho there.
Quick August nibbles and bites: A short list of other noteworthy spots includes Willapa and Bellingham Bays, Baker Lake for sockeye, the Samish, Puyallup and Green Rivers, and Sinclair Inlet.
Before heading out, be sure to check the regulations for any updates or emergency closures. To find a complete list of Washington’s planned 2023–2024 salmon fisheries, go to the WDFW North of Falcon webpage.
(Author Mark Yuasa is a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communications manager and longtime local fishing and outdoor writer.)