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Puget Sound Salmon For The Boatless

Puget Sound Salmon For The Boatless

Want to put a silver or pink salmon on your table but don't have a boat? Here's where -- and how -- shore-bound anglers can pick up fish. (January 2006)

Solitude is the order of the day for this saltwater angler.
Photo by David Williams

Every year, just like clockwork, Pacific salmon round the northwestern tip of Washington, then pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on their way to their natal streams in Puget Sound. Boat anglers can target the fish in the open ocean and elsewhere. Shore-bound anglers, in search of chrome-bright fish, need to target the fish when they swing close to shore.

Here are some specific spots that give you a shot at coho and pink salmon as well as a stray Chinook and chum.

Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) traditionally are an odd-year fish, meaning they return to spawn in fresh water every odd-numbered year after spending two years at sea. In 2005, upwards of 2 million pink salmon are expected to return, with about 1 million of those headed for the Snohomish River system alone, and another 500,000 for the Skagit River system.

Pinks have been a success story amongst Pacific salmon as their odd-year numbers have been increasing; the smaller even-year runs have been increasing as well. This year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has increased the bag limit on pink salmon in some marine and freshwater areas, due to the run size.

Early reports also indicate about 1 million coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) will be headed into the Strait before filtering through north Puget Sound. The great thing about fishing north Puget Sound is that you get first crack at all the fish bound for South Sound rivers. In addition to the migrating coho, Puget Sound supports a resident coho population.

Some credit for the large salmon returns undoubtedly is due to the concerted efforts of the 14 Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups, which share the common goal of restoring salmonid populations and habitat.



Here is a short list of easy-to-locate places, beginning in the north and then running south down to Seattle.

Possession Point, at the southeast end of Whidbey Island, presents an opportunity to cast for salmon, since it holds bait all year long. It is strategically located so that both the Snohomish and Skagit fish pass through the area as they head for their spawning streams. Possession Point is known mainly as a boat show, but a local hole known as the Bait Box is perched on the edge of a deep drop-off. The key here is to fish the incoming tide, preferably just before dark or early in the morning.

One of my favorite interception spots is Kayak Point, a 428-acre saltwater beach park in Snohomish County. The park was originally part of 10,000 acres purchased by a Seattle land developer in 1909. In 1967, the Richfield Oil Company purchased 2,000 of those acres, intending to build an oil refinery. When those plans fell through, Snohomish County stepped in and created a park with 3,300 feet of shoreline and a fishing pier. A small daily access fee is charged.

Most fishers congregate on the fishing pier (be prepared to land your fish using a net attached to a rope), or at the point of land south of the pier. The pier provides access to deeper water while the tide pushing against the point seems to bring fish in closer.

On the east side of Puget Sound, Point No Point is another favorite spot for shore-bound anglers. Kitsap County leases 59.8 acres from the U.S. Coast Guard. Located at the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula, Point No Point is popular with gear and fly fishers alike. At Point No Point, where you fish depends completely on the tide. If you have an outgoing tide, fish the west side, as the tide washes baitfish around the point. Switch to the east side if you're fishing the incoming tide, as the tide forces the bait in tight against the beach, and the salmon naturally follow. Buzz Bombs catch lots of fish each year, as do weighted spoons.

Heading further south, you can access beaches at Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park and within the city limits of Seattle, Golden Gardens Park. Yet another popular spot is Lincoln Park, just north of the Vashon-Southworth Ferry terminal.

If you want more choices, just get a DeLorme Gazetteer and look for state, county and city parks along the almost 2,000 miles of Washington state inland marine shoreline. Almost any beach has potential, but the best will be those with gravelly, rocky stretches peppered with eelgrass beds, and maybe a creek mouth. The rocks and vegetation attract baitfish, which bring predators within reach of your rod.


Pink salmon are suckers for pink. Cast and retrieve a Dick Nite spoon or Buzz Bombs. Pink squid imitations catch a lot of fish, even in fresh water where, to the best of my knowledge, no squid live.

Opinions vary on whether to fish the incoming or outgoing tide. I've done both and caught fish each way. I've also not caught fish on each tide. Look for active fish. They give away their position by rolling or jumping. Try to position your offering so that it comes to the fish from the same direction as the tide. Pinks seem to like their food moving fairly slowly.

Coho can be found higher in the water column than Chinook, which means they are more available to shore anglers. Look for the edges of tide rips. If you find bait in those rips, you'll find coho. Move your spoon like a frantic baitfish trying to escape a salmon bent on making sushi out of it. Try a fast retrieve, then give slack so the spoon flutters like an injured baitfish.

Fly-fishing for salmon in the salt is becoming more and more popular, particularly as people learn how much fun it is to trigger strikes from fresh coho using baitfish patterns on the surface. One local flyfisher and innovative fly tier, Leland Miyawaki, has perfected his Beach Popper, which he uses almost exclusively when fishing the salt.

For coho, throw a candlefish pattern, then strip the line as fast as you can. Clouser minnows in chartreuse over white are very popular. Pinks are more sedate in their feeding, but remember that they love anything pink. In 2003, my favorite pattern had a gold beadchain head, gold tinsel body with pink marabou wing. It caught fish even when no fish were showing.

Gear fishers need a medium-weight rod matched with a smooth drag reel loaded with at least 200 yards of 15-pound-test line. Spinning reels are popular, and many anglers use level wind reels as well. If you hook a Chinook, you might feel a bit under-gunned, but this rig will allow you to handle most any coho.

Flyfishers use a 9-foot, 6- or 7-weight rod, floating or sink-tip line and a smooth drag reel filled with 200 yards of 20-pound-test backing. When targeting pinks, or if I'm fishing from a float tube where it's possible to paddle after a hot, running fish, I'll drop down to a 5-weight to give the fish a sporting chance.

Since salt water is highly corrosive, always wash your gear in fresh water as soon as you return home. Take all your gear out of the truck, pile it on the driveway and thoroughly wash the salt off the rods, reels, flies, lures and waders. Dry the rods with a soft cloth, spray WD-40 on the inner parts of the reels (taking care not to spray the line), add oil (if recommended by the manufacturer), and you're good to go for the next trip.


Pinks, being 2-year-old fish, are the smallest of the fall spawning Pacific salmon, averaging 3 to 5 pounds in the salt and running 20 to 25 inches long. The current Washington state saltwater record is 11.56 pounds; a much larger fish was landed in fresh water. Pinks are easily identified by their smaller size. They also sport a steely blue back and silvery sides with many large black spots on the back and entire tail fin.

Coho are typically 3-year-old fish that average 6 to 12 pounds, although many larger fish are caught each year. The current Washington saltwater record is 25.34 pounds. In the salt, coho are silver-bright with small black spots on the back and the upper lobe of their caudal fin. They have pink gums; Chinook salmon have black gums.


Following the trend of other states, Washington fishing regulations have become so complicated that any effort to synthesize them fails. That's the result of trying to manage and protect endangered fishery stocks. Before you head out for your favorite spot, read the regulations pamphlet. Then check for any emergency regulation changes.

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