Head to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in September if you’re looking for bait-chasing, lure-grabbing, heart-stopping salmon action in the salt water of the Pacific Northwest. The strait plays host to millions of returning salmon every summer and fall. Forming the water border between the U.S. and Canada, this vast shipping channel runs all the way from Seattle’s Puget Sound to where it empties into the Pacific at Neah Bay, Washington (home of the infamous Makah whaling tribe).
By September most of the bigger, moodier Chinook salmon have passed through. In their place come roaring numbers of pinks (also called “humpies”) and cohos (called “silvers” and “hooknoses” by the locals) mixing together and feeding aggressively on herring, squid, anchovies and needlefish before swimming back to their natal rivers.
It adds up to an extravaganza of intense salmon fishing through September and into October. It’s some of the finest saltwater angling imaginable.
Anglers troll Coyote Spoons, dodgers with plastic squids and dodgers with cut-plug herring. Acrobatic cohos and hard-fighting pinks also have a knack for smashing metal jigs like Buzz Bombs and Crippled Herrings. The most exciting way to go is with spoons, such as 7/8-ounce Pixies (try the hammered pink finish with red egg insert), or with salmon flies on fly gear.
Unlike deep-running Chinook, pinks and cohos are often right on the surface. A common method is to run from the U.S. side out to the shipping lane, cut your motor and drift with the tide, throwing spoons and flies.
Another fail-safe method is to troll a plastic squid behind a dodger or flasher with the downriggers set anywhere from 5 to 35 feet down early in the day. As more sunlight hits the water, these salmon sometimes go deeper–from 60 to 90 feet–but not always.
Pinks are not picky. They hit with hard-fighting abandon despite their generally modest 4- to 6-pound average size. On the other hand, big cohos to 20 pounds are selective, but they can still rattle your nerves and bust your knuckles with ferocious strikes. You’ll find the biggest cohos making their way into the strait from mid- to late September.
This area is famous for windless, foggy days in the early fall. You can fish through it with a good GPS, and you’ll want to because the water will be as flat as a farm pond. You can often find monstrous cohos milling around near the surface on such days. This is the perfect time for spoon-casting and flyfishing.
Only barbless hooks may be used. Wild Chinooks and cohos cannot be boated–they must be released unharmed soon after they’re caught. Only fin-clipped hatchery fish can be retained. The pinks are so numerous, however, that no hatchery or wild restrictions exist for them. Contact: Dan and Elizabeth Halady, Rocky Brook Rod and Hackle, Port Angeles, WA (360-457-3437).
For more regional information, go to www.outdoorlife.com/regional
Pinks and cohos nose their way into fresh water come the rains of October.
SATSOP, HUMPTULIPS AND WYNOOCHEE RIVERS: Try a Dick Nite black/green spoon with a pencil-lead dropper for fast and furious action on these Washington rivers.
SNOHOMISH RIVER: The area provides incredibly hot action for pinks and cohos well into the fall. Bank-fishermen line up on the sandbars upriver, throwing flies, spoons and spinners to score on the ever-cooperative pinks.
HOH, BOGACHIEL AND SOL DUC RIVERS: Cohos in Washington’s “Peninsula rivers” take spoons, plugs, flies and drifted eggs.–D.R.