Summertime Salmon in the Pacific Northwest
America’s Pacific Northwest offers stunning natural beauty with lush forests, immense mountains, and many beautiful lakes, streams, rivers, and the Pacific Ocean. Opportunities abound for the outdoorsman as both fishing and hunting are exceptional for many different species, but in this region, salmon, trout and steelhead are king and generate the most attention from resident anglers and visitors looking to experience what Washington and Oregon have to offer.
For the salmon and steelhead angler, fishing begins each summer in the saltwater as the fish transition and begin their push to the rivers for their annual migration to spawning grounds. A progression of different fish runs occurs each year and the timing of each depends on species, open fishing seasons, and water temperature. But, they are all on their way to the rivers to spawn as it is their lifelong duty to fulfill.
Captain Nick Kester | All Star Seattle Fishing Charters
Opportunities Abound in the Sound
Washington’s Puget Sound is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and is home to Seattle, a city known for coffee and tech companies and a thriving saltwater fishery. Captain Nick Kester of All Star Seattle Fishing Charters takes clients aboard his boat right in the heart of Seattle as they target halibut, lingcod, and a variety of salmon species depending on the season.
He stays busy six days a week with up to eight client groups each week, cycling between half and full-day fishing charters during the peak salmon season, beginning in June and ending in October.
“We start even earlier in May with the lingcod, but start fishing for the resident Coho that live their whole life in the Puget Sound starting June 1st,” says Kester. “Then it is king salmon (Chinook) in July, then pinks, and then the main Coho run after that.”
While the salmon species changes depending on the open seasons and time of year, his approach remains pretty consistent as trolling with downriggers with either plastic skirted Hoochies, plugs, or flashers with spoons accounting for most of their salmon fishing, no matter the season.
Generally, he’ll have four rods rigged with different sizes of downrigger balls, with heavier weights on the outside and two lighter weights on the two inside rods.
“We deal with a lot of current and have to adjust the depths constantly,” he says. “I’ve experimented with all different downrigger balls sizes and have it dialed in so we can troll and make a 90-degree turn and not get the lines tangled. We run a braided mainline and a variety of Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders depending on the fish species and lures we are trolling.”
For most instances, 40 or 50 lb. Blue Label gets the nod and Kester has found many benefits of the leader material with incredible impact strength and abrasion resistance.
“It is my go-to for fishing hoochies and plugs because it is stiff, strong, and durable,” says Kester. “It holds knots really well, and I am not worried when one of my clients is a little less experienced and gets the line wrapped around the downrigger cable because it takes the abuse. We’ll use it for pinks in 90 feet of water and as deep as 300 feet for the kings.”
Kester likes the stiffer Blue Label for hoochies and plugs because he feels it works for those particular trolling lures but will mix in 30 or 40 lb. Seaguar Gold Label for spoons.
“Gold Label is a lot softer and helps the spoon get more of a free action,” he says. “You want that for spoons, where the stiffer Blue Label helps your plugs ‘walk’ better underneath the water as you troll.”
Buoy 10 Madness
Outside of Astoria, Oregon is the famed Buoy 10, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. It is the place to be when the salmon runs happen as every fish in the area is making a beeline to the river to spawn, but it also has unique challenges.
The ocean tides and current from the massive river colliding can create treacherous boating conditions and that doesn’t even account for the massive boat traffic from anglers looking to catch salmon. During the peak times, it is insanity as boats jockey for position in prime locations.
Captain John Keizer of Salt Patrol is well known in the region as an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and television show host and spends his summers at the mouth of the Columbia chasing salmon. He’ll also poke into the river if the weather or fishing conditions call for it.
Captain John Keizer | Salt Patrol
“Earlier in the year, around July, we are out in deep water,” says Keizer. “We are targeting Chinook in 250 to 300 feet of water pulling flashers with hoochies. The month of August is when the fishing gets hot and the fish are much shallower on the beaches and we start to troll divers with a Yakima Bait SpinFish in 30 to 50 feet of water. If we are in the river, it is all current and tide related and we could be in 20 feet or as deep as 70 feet of water.”
No matter what they are trolling and if they are in the ocean or river, Keizer prefers Seaguar leader material.
“For tying hoochies, 50 lb. Blue Label is perfect because it is stiffer and that imparts better action,” he says. “If I am pulling a SpinFish, the 50 lb. Blue Label lets it spin well. I’ll also sometimes pull anchovies behind a flasher, and anytime I am hooking directly into bait, I have found 30 lb. Seaguar Fluoro Premier to be the perfect softness and diameter.”
“It is very resilient and holds up extremely well, even as fish are thrashing and bumping up against the boat when we are trying to land them,” he says. “And, since fluorocarbon is much more invisible than monofilament, you get more bites. That’s important when you have so many other anglers fishing right next to you at Buoy 10.”
Each year, Keizer follows the progression of the Chinook through August before switching gears to the smaller Coho salmon through September. “The water temperatures from the Columbia have a big impact on when the fish move, but they are all coming in; they have to go up the river no matter what,” he says.The gloomy skies from winter are a distant memory during the summer in the Pacific Northwest and sunny skies and comfortable temperatures are the norm. Add in a meal of freshly caught salmon, and it is hard to beat a summer along the Oregon and Washington’s Pacific Coast.
Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader is available in 25 yard spools in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 lb. test for fresh water use, complementing the 15, 20, 25, 30, 40 , 50 , 60 and 80 lb. test leaders available for saltwater.
Seaguar Fluoro Premier fluorocarbon leader is available in sizes from 12 to 80 lb. test on 25 and 50 yard leader spools.