July marks the first summer arrivals of the Pacific Northwest's monster fall-run kings. Here are the hottest spots to intercept and battle these behemoth beasts this summer and fall.
Photo by Terry W. Sheely
Tick tock. Tick tock. Tick tock.
Time is crawling by as Northwest salmon anglers await the one true love they long for all year: monstrously sized fall-run Chinook, bound for countless estuaries, bays, tidewaters and lower river sections throughout the Pacific Northwest.
These bad boys are starting to show this month, which means it's time to spool fresh line, sharpen those hooks, organize your tackle, pre-tie your leaders, check your net for breaks and frays, and hit the coast for some of the biggest salmon swimming anywhere. Be sure to consult your regulations on opening dates and limits, as some of these fisheries are available in July, some don't open until August, and some not until September and October.
Life starts to get interesting on the lower Rogue River come about the first or second week of July. Big autumn kings begin the process of staging just off the bar at Gold Beach, then begin ascending into the bay on incoming tides. They'll flux in and out of the bay for the larger part of the summer, feasting on anchovies and herring. The warm summertime water temp in the river acts as a thermal barrier, keeping these big fish down low and out in the bay. They won't begin their upriver run until the days shorten, those summer temps temper down, and fall rains begin.
Your best bet for these famously big fish -- Rogue kings can run anywhere from a modest 12 pounds to a staggering 60-plus pounds -- is trolling the bay and lower river when the tides are running. (Slack tides are not productive here.) A Rogue Bait Rig is the absolute all-time top producer, fished with a dropper weight and trailing a whole anchovy.
If you want to learn this fishery from an expert, contact Steve Beyerlin at the Rogue River Country Guide Shack at the mouth of the Rogue (800-348-4138). And, don't overlook the upper river in July -- it's a prime month for the Rogue's famous half-pounder steelhead.
COOL COQUILLE KINGS
Plug-cut purple label herring is the ticket for lower Coquille River fish. Here, a high slack tide is best, using a dropper with 2 ounces of lead, and a 5 1/2-foot leader. Launch at Rocky Point or Bullards State Park. In a high surging tide, troll in the direction of the water, but under more moderate tides and at slack tides, trolling in either direction will score. When this fishery starts up, expect sporadic action, maybe one boat in six getting fish. This is a fishery that starts out slow but picks up steam as the season progresses.
Still, you can expect these fish to be bragging-sized. There will be plenty of 15-pounders, sure, but fish in the 25- to 37-pound mark are remarkably common, and every season anglers manage to hook into fish pushing 54 pounds. Looking for a pro to fish with here? Try Rick Howard at Rick Howard Guide Service (541-347-3280).
IN AND OUT OF SIUSLAW BAY
Perhaps more than other locations on the Oregon coast, kings in the tidewater of Siuslaw Bay tend to be cruisers, really moving around, in and out of the bay. Says Bill Pinkney of The Sportsman (541-997-3336) in Florence, "They'll go out to the ocean for a week, then come in again, all with the big tides. When they come in, it's not just across the bar. They'll come in five or six miles if the tide's big enough."
Timing this run is a matter of a combination of elements -- rainfall, warm inland water temperatures, and how much bait is available to the fish out in the salt (the more bait, the longer they stay out). But eventually the salmon do manage to arrive, moving farther up with each tide. Says Pinkney, "They'll come in one time up to a certain place. Then go back out again. Then, when they come in again, they'll come up farther."
Pinkney believes the salmon are seeking two things: baitfish, and 55-degree water. "The water at Mapleton will probably be 70 degrees this time of year, while the beach water is 48 to 50. Where that water mixes, the fish will hang there." Start early in the season with herring, then switch to spinners during the latter part of the run.
ALSEA RIVER BIG KINGS
Tidewater and tide changes are the big deal on the lower Alsea River. Usually in the summer the upper river lacks decent water flows, but the lower river is where the action starts. And these fish are big. Says guide Travis Moffitt with Travis Moffitt Guide Service (541-914-0720). "If you fish down in tidewater on the tide changes, you can start picking them off as they're coming in. Alsea Bay isn't as popular as some of the other bays, but it's becoming more popular because the kings you can get are huge. A 40-pounder doesn't even deserve a gawk on this river system anymore. There are a lot of big fish that show."
The thing is, however, there's a slower than usual start to this run, so August can be sketchy, with better fishing coming later in the season. Fish tidewater on the outgoing tide, trolling with it and against it with a Rogue Bait Rig, or troll with the tide with a plug-cut herring. If this river system gets some early rains and water levels come up, switch to bobber fishing with sand shrimp.
NEHALEM BAY BIGGIES
The four hours bracketing high tide at the jaws of Nehalem Bay are killer for big kings early in the year. After that, switch to fishing the interior of the bay from Paradise Cove to the town of Nehalem itself, where the tide turn on the incoming tide tends to be the best time to fish. The water just north of the Highway 101 bridge is some of the most productive.
Inside the bay, fish close to the bottom, 15 to 20 feet down. If you don't find fish in the bay, however, you can often score just over the bar where they can be stacked up.
Early season pressure tends to be light, but fishing early is the key to working fish that haven't seen the assortment of herring, spinners, bobbers and eggs, bobbers and sand shrimp, and jigs that will eventually be thrown their way as the season progresses. The hot presentation last year was a Luhr Jensen Teespoon. Time of day isn't critical early in the season, but by the latter part of August the first two hours of sunrise make for the best bite. Expect some big boys in this run, up to 40 pounds.
For more information, contact Jake Brown at Wheeler Marina at (503) 368-4269.
The Tillamook Bay fall run king fishery is a classic Oregon event, right up there with the Civil War football game. At Nehalem Bay, hit the jetties in that magic three to four hours around high tide.
In fact, Tillamook Bay really offers two different fisheries -- one from the North Jetty up to the Ghost Hole, which is a bait fishery. The second is the Oyster House area where the Trask and Tillamook rivers come together. This stretch is primarily a hardware fishery, where spoons and bait-wrapped plugs work the best.
Early in the season, fishing just out of Tillamook Bay for feeder Chinook can be tops, too, and if you head north out of the bay you can intercept bigger Nehalem River fish. For expert advice on this fishery, contact Jeff Folkema at Garibaldi Marina at (503) 322-3312.
Lesser known than some other Oregon tidewater fisheries, Nestucca Bay and the lower tidewater of the Nestucca River is a kind of sleepy "secondary" fishery in August, with fairly light fishing pressure and only modest numbers of fish prior to the rains coming in October. But if you're a patient bobber and bait man, or an equally patient fly rodder looking to pick a fight with a big king, this can be a great place to do it. You won't find many other boats until things really get cooking, so you won't find a lot of trollers in the way of your casting and drifting.
For bobber and bait presentations, drift eggs or sand shrimp (or combinations of the two) under a Dink float on an incoming tide. But remember the bulk of this run doesn't usually show up until mid-September, so in August you're targeting pilot fish and the action can be, well, modest at first. These are Cedar Creek Hatchery fish from Three Rivers, and they're released each year in August, so that's their beginning time frame for returning home. Other presentations that work well here include Blue Fox spinners and Clearwater Flashes. As the fish show up, though, trolling Kwikfish is the killer method.
To stay in tune with this run, contact Nestucca Valley Sporting Goods in Hebo at (503) 392-4269.
These are by no means all for Oregon's lineup of hot-weather kings. Two more solid bets include Coos Bay and Winchester Bay, for kings that are bound up the Coos River and the Umpqua and Smith. A solid expert on these two tidewater fisheries is Rick Mason, with Impatient Angler Guide Service (541-680-2750).
These fisheries start to see fish in August, and then really get cooking in September and October. Fish here as you would on the lower Rogue, with a Rogue Bait Rig, using either herring or anchovies.
And, don't forget the vast tidewater reaches of the lower Umpqua River, which can be incredibly productive later this season for both silvers and big kings. An expert for this water is Todd Harrington with Living Waters Guide Service (541-584-2105). Harrington fishes within five miles of the ocean, and the kings here average around 25 pounds. High tides are best, with plug-cut herring and hoochie spinners the presentations of choice.
ALL QUIET ON THE QUEETS?
Washington's Queets River on the Olympic Peninsula is another incredible hotspot for fall-run kings (and silvers, too), though it's not a particularly well-known fishery, possibly because of its remote location and rugged setting.
This is a later season fishery, starting the first of September. The entire month of September and all of October are excellent times to catch monstrous kings and lots and lots of silvers by drift-boat plugging with Kwikfish for the kings and drifting jigs and throwing spinners for the silvers. The lower river also sees some pretty incredible sea-run cutt fishing this time of year, too; fish a dry Stimulator along the banks.
Because the majority of the river falls within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park, which requires guides to have special permits, the number of guides who work the Queets is pretty low. But one of the best is Bob Kratzer, with Angler's Guide Service (360-374-3148). One advantage to the Queets is that it will usually have salmon before its cousin rivers to the north (the Hoh, the Sol Duc, and the Quillayute) do. In some years, the king fishing even holds up until November.
HOH RIVER BEAUTIES
The Peninsula's Hoh River is really best known as a steelhead stream, but it offers some incredible salmon action, too. The springers that come into the Hoh are sporadic and tough to nail, but the size of these fish can be incredible, with 50-pounders sometimes making an appearance. They started to show back in April and May, and they'll continue to straggle in through the summer in low numbers until the Peninsula's famous fall rains kick in and the fall-run fish start to show in good numbers.
This is a fishery that really gets cooking in mid- to late September, with October, November and sometimes very early December offering a shot at some big ones. This is also a pretty good silver fishery, and in fact last January I hooked and released a 12-pound silver from the Hoh that was still in remarkably decent shape for so late in the year.
One of the best Hoh River guides around is Mike Zavadlov with Angler's Guide Service (360-640-8109).
The Hoh offers big, wild kings with no hatchery fish in the mix. The strength of the run tends to be cyclical, but the past couple of seasons have been outstanding. As with the Queets, back-trolling plugs such as Kwikfish (silver/chartreuse is hot) is the way to go. The Hot Shot SE in gold was also a top producer last year. Once those famous fall rains set in, the upper Hoh above Oxbow can also be incredibly rife with big kings.
QUILLAYUTTE, BOGIE & SOL DUC
Come July the Bogachiel and Sol Duc may not have much water in them, depending on summer precipitation levels and what's left of the snow in the Olympics, so a lot of the early season action is usually restricted to wet wading for sea-run cutts and a smattering of summer steelhead. But later this season big kings will start showing in all three rivers.
The Bogie and Sol Duc come together to form the Quillayute, and this lower piece of water can be an awesome place to find kings stacked up waiting to come in. The Quillayute is, in fact, a top location early in the season before the rains start.
Rule of thumb for the Bogie and Sol Duc fisheries, however, is that when it starts raining, whenever that will be this year, that's the time the kings make their ascent and start showing in these upper rivers.
The Bogie king fishery can be a tight window, however -- sometimes as little as two weeks. Fish from Highway 101 down to Wilson's boat ramp, as this is one of the most productive drifts for salmon on the river.
While the Bogie's salmon window is tight, the Sol Duc fishery can hold up all the way to November. And if kings aren't your target, keep the Sol Duc silver run in mind come later in the fall. It's one of the best river fisheries for silvers in the Northwest, with hatchery coho stacked up in the river's holes like cordwood. Once it starts raining, the Sol Duc stays fishable more than other rivers on the Peninsula, too. Fish from the hatchery on down, concentrating your efforts on any deep holes in which kings and silvers tend to stack. Target silvers with Blue Fox Vibrax silver
s and marabou orange jigs. Back-troll Kwikfish for the kings.
Knowledgeable guides on this system include Mike Price with Grizzly Guide Service (360-374-5873) and Jim Richeson of Quillayute River Guide Service (888-501-5887).