An Accidental SuccessAugust 21, 2023
Just Passing Through
Anymore, to take full advantage of some of the Pacific Northwest’s better fishing opportunities it requires a driving mindset. As in, watching the odometer tick off the miles in your vehicle. Most people I know have come to terms with being a mobile salmon angler, myself included.
To reach Sekiu (pronounced C-Q) it takes some doing. Located on the northwest tip of Washington state it requires driving Highway 101 and then along two-lane roads that twist and wind like a snake before you finally reach the town of Clallam Bay and eventually Seiku. From my home in Portland, it’s a five-hour drive and a commitment of staying over at least one night. And therein lies once of the biggest challenges of fishing here: securing lodging.
If you have any inclination of fishing here this summer, it’s best that you make reservations at one of several motels and resorts sooner rather than later. Van Riper’s Resort and Mason’s Resort are the two mainstays, and each offers boat moorage. There are several campgrounds nearby as well. A quick search on the Internet will give you even more options. Once the hard part is complete — getting reservations — the rest is easy. Easy as in showing up and getting your bait in front of the schools of migrating coho salmon swimming through the Strait.
Last September I spent two days here fishing with Tony Floor, the Saltwater Editor for Salmon & Steelhead Journal. He’s fished Sekiu for as long as he can remember and he made catching a limit of silvers look easy. Along with his wife Karyl we were on the dock most days with our two-fish limit by 1 p.m. in the afternoon. Thanks to a strong showing of wild coho, the action was steady from first light until the last clipped coho was in the box. Again, factor in the increase of coho this year, and it should (knock wood) be as good if not better than 2021. Which is why fishing for salmon at Sekiu is again on my list of places to fish this year. After last year’s fishing trip in September, it’s hard not to return.
And if you factor in this year’s coho forecast, it should be equally as good if not better.
This year’s coho forecast for the Puget Sound is 636,952, of which 387,722 are expected to be fin-clipped. The remaining 249,230 are wild. This year’s hatchery component is an 8 percent improvement from last year while the wild portion is up 9 percent from 2021. The 10-year average for hatchery coho is up 61 percent while the wild coho is up 29 percent. All of those fish will pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Sekiu is home base.
Managed under Marine Area 5 in the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife regulations, there is a chinook season that runs from July 1 to Aug. 15. There is a daily limit of two hatchery chinook (22” is the minimum size). During this period all chum, wild chinook and coho must be released. The coho season begins Aug. 16 and runs through Sept. 30. There is daily limit of two coho and all chinook, chum and wild coho must be released.
There are a couple approaches to fishing Sekiu and they all are personal choices. The first is whether you use bait or lures and the second is whether to mooch or troll with downriggers. Again, it’s a matter of personal preference.
Tony, who is a died-in-the-wool downrigger fisherman, prefers to mooch with bait at Sekiu. But that doesn’t mean trolling with “wire” shouldn’t be considered because there will plenty of boats with deployed downriggers, and they no doubt caught fish. But if you’re like Floor the ease of mooching makes the most sense. The silvers typically run in the top 40 feet of the water column, which makes a good argument for mooching. Not only is it easier to clear rods when a bite occurs, but it also means less time is needed to reset the downrigger after a bite. And that speaks nothing to the fact that the smaller salmon aren’t big enough to release the downrigger clip.
The other debate you will have is whether to use bait or lures. Lures are less mess and no fuss, and will save you money in the long run. Changing bait takes time and when you find yourself in the middle of a bite, which will happen, then lures make the most sense.
Whether you choose bait or lures, mooching over trolling with downriggers, depends on you. You won’t be wrong. And if you’re like Tony, then meeting in the middle makes the most sense: mooching with whole herring.
Mooching for coho is arguably the simplest way to fish here. A standard 9- to 10-foot rod with a good backbone and light tip section is standard. Run 25-pound mainline and rig up with a banana shaped mooching sinker. Then run a 7- to 9-foot leader with a bead chain swivel to a standard two-hook mooching rig. Both cut-plug and whole herring work well in the late-summer and early fall. If you fish your herring whole, run a toothpick from the anal cavity through the belly of the fish. Give it a slight bend to ensure the bait has a tight spin. The toothpick holds the bend in place. For coho, Floor prefers red label herring.
If ever there was a pass-through fishery, then Sekiu is it. All of the coho passing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca are merely making their way to rivers in the Puget Sound. Unlike the chinook fishery, success in the coho fishery is a matter of finding the traveling schools. Relying on your electronics is a big piece of the puzzle as is finding birds and paying attention to what other boats are doing. When asked to give advice on where to target silvers, Floor responded: run your boat due north of Sekiu and when you reach depths of 500 and 600 feet, you’re in the general area. While it might appear that you’re trying to find a needle in the proverbial haystack, it really comes down to finding where the fish are traveling. Once you find them, stay with them.
Once you locate fish you’ll have to experiment with the depth. Stagger your depths using the pull system. A good starting point is 25 pulls from your reel to the first guide on your rod. We caught them anywhere between 25 and 40 pulls. Expect the silvers to be between 40 feet deep and the surface.
To get the right spin you should troll between 3 and 4 knots. Coho aren’t shy about chasing down a bait, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your speed. It’s perfectly OK to kick your motor in and out of gear letting your bait fall and flutter while you’re in neutral. Once you bump your motor back in gear, the bait will rise. The stall and starting motion is enough to trigger a bite.
While Tony doesn’t use flashers or dodgers, a lot of coho are caught with them. The added flash works as an attractor and the side-to-side motion of a dodger gives your bait or lure even more action. And if you’re of the mind that lures are better you won’t be alone. Because the availability of different lures available can be daunting, narrow your choices down to Coho Killers, Coyote Spoons, Kingfisher Lites, Ace Hi Flies, hoochies, YBC’s SpinFish and Brad’s Super Baits. Add a small chunk of herring to the hooks for added attraction. If you want to. Rubbing scent on your lures is also a good idea.
If you find yourself here during the chinook season, pay close attention to the stretch between The Caves and the Hoko River, a quarter-mile stretch that starts at Mason’s Resort. It is located west of the boat basin. Trolling from Kydaka Point to Sekiu Point is also a popular troll pattern. Another popular trolling stretch is from Slip Point to Pillar Point. Here, you’ll pass by Mussolini Rock, Eagle Point, the Slide and the Coal Mines. If you’re going to specifically target chinook, then a downrigger will help in targeting specific depths. Expect the chinook to run deeper.
Last year was my introduction to fishing Sekiu was memorable. In particular, the time spent with Tony and his wife, and of course the numbers of fish we caught. Our first day we landed 34 silvers; 28 were wild and six were clipped. The morning was breathtakingly beautiful. We were greeted with a blistering orange sunrise that gave way to a bluebird day. Our second day we woke to hard rain, heavy wind and borderline miserable conditions. Yet we managed to catch our limit by 10:30 in the morning. The takeaway from that is be prepared for all kinds of weather.
Winds that matter typically come from the North or East (or variations of those) and whip through the Strait. A westerly, or southerly, generally is manageable most days. Regardless, wind will usually kick up in the afternoons so hopefully you’re back on the dock cleaning fish before it gets too rough. And with any luck, there will be room at the fish cleaning station.
Peak time is late-August and the first two weeks of September. After that the weather gets sketchy, and the bulk of the coho will have passed through the Strait. Most of the coho will run between 7 and 15 pounds. Later in the season they’ll weigh more by virtue of feeding constantly. Last year, the two biggest coho in Tony’s boat weighed 13 and 14 pounds, both caught by his wife.
With those chunky silvers in mind that I’m eager to return. I just need to make sure there are still rooms to rent in Sekiu. Because if all things being equal, that’s the hardest part about catching fish here. ssj