Tillamook Bay is Icing on the Salmon Cake

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Tillamook Bay is Icing on the Salmon Cake
Tony Floor

By Tony Floor, Saltwater Editor

            I don’t know about you, but I’m still catching my breath from chasing saltwater chinook and coho salmon during the last five to six months. 

            My summer king season always starts with Sitka, followed by Sekiu and Port Angeles, two trips to Esparanza on Vancouver Island, Westport, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and on to Tillamook before putting a wrap on the northwest saltwater fisheries.

            As written in this space before, going into these summer fisheries in 2019, we didn’t have to look far to find the negative noise suggesting our sport salmon fishing opportunities were on the edge of doom. To the contrary, I experienced slam-o-rama king salmon fishing on most of my trips.

            Take this summer’s Neah Bay fishery, for example. During the first week of their summer season, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife checked 1,800 anglers with 1,400 chinook salmon. Are you kidding me? In my lifetime, I do not recall a hotter sample than that. From anglers who I talked with, it was raining king salmon. Grundens raingear offered no relief for the downpour of king salmon. Some say it was the result of British Columbia fish manager reducing their troll fishery for chinook which sounds logical to me.

            During that first week of July, I attempted to fish Ediz Hook at Port Angeles but high winds caused me to shift to Plan B, which meant trailering quickly to Sekiu, one hour to the west. I fished there for two days, bringing 22 kings to the boat with a long-time fishing buddy, taking limits of two kings per angler. Similar to the salmon meltdown at Neah Bay, it was mind boggling.

            Hein Bank, too, in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, joined the parade of eye-popping chinook salmon fishing throughout the month of July. Amazing and go figure.

            Fast forward to today to consider saltwater fishing options in October and November.

            When I turn my calendar to October, I think of one word and it’s called Tillamook. For the record, I’m not talking about the well-known cheese factory.

            I’ve been a fan of this late timed king salmon run to Tillamook Bay since my baptism to the fishery back in the late ’80s. Using mooching gear back in those days, with a large plug-cut herring, my first drop to the bottom at the entrance to the bay called “The Jaws,” put me up against a 45-pound beast of a king salmon. I won and was born again. My second fish was a 38-pounder and I fell in love with the fishery.

            October and November are prime time to fish Tillamook Bay. Similar to the trend in all Pacific northwest fisheries, the king salmon average size today has dropped to fish weighing closer to 20 to 30 pounds. Sign me up Vern.

            These king salmon indigenous to Tillamook Bay are genetically unique. They return to the estuary of the bay, chrome bright and large, much later than other king salmon stocks. It’s challenging to comprehend the late timing since most fall chinook have returned to their rivers of origin, spawned and vanished while these fish are just turning the door knob to home.

            My counsel to learn the fishery is to hook up with an experienced guide before taking on Tillamook Bay king salmon with your gear and boat.

            Research will suggest a number of guides to consider. If you like filet mignon, you have two choices. Travis Moncrief or Tim Juarez get my vote as the best of the best. Moncrief grew up in Tillamook and he is clearly one of the outstanding guides in the business. Experienced, cool and successful, Moncrief should probably wear a tuxedo when he is in his saltwater office.

            Juarez is like a brother to Moncrief. They work together and seemingly share their knowledge throughout a day of fishing. 

            And at the end of the day, pulling their crab pots stuffed with Dungeness crab, enjoying Oregon’s 12 crab per person limit is frosting on the cake. Tell ’em Tony sent you! I promise you won’t regret fishing with these two high liners.

            Meanwhile, as another saltwater fishing option in October and November, I’ve enjoyed fishing in Puget Sound (Area 10) close to Seattle. This region is open to fall/winter chinook retention until Nov. 15. Most Puget Sound anglers refer to these fish as blackmouth which is an immature chinook salmon. 

The most popular area within Area 10 is on the west side of Puget Sound, slightly northwest of downtown Seattle called Jefferson Head. Here, schools of small herring forage around the forgiving sandy bottom of Jeff Head, typically around 120 to 150 feet of water attracting blackmouth.

            I’m headed for Tillamook Bay to attend a meeting with Travis who knows where they live and what they like to eat. Hard to beat the fragrance of a big, chrome Tillamook Bay king salmon in October. Welcome aboard! 

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