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Heavyweight Chinook On Neah Bay

Heavyweight Chinook On Neah Bay

Put yourself in the right place at the right time to catch big blackmouth in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (July 2007)

Proof that the big ones bite! Ron Harrington landed this 40-pounder.
Photo by Terry Wiest.

Why fish Neah Bay when you can hit Puget Sound, Buoy 10 off the mouth of the Columbia River, or go up in the Columbia itself?

A glance at a Washington map and a little bit of knowledge about salmon travel patterns gives a clear answer.

Neah Bay provides access to both the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. If you fish the Strait, you have the first shot at all the salmon that travel around the west side of Vancouver Island before heading into Puget Sound.

If you fish the Pacific side, you get to put your bait in front of those salmon headed down the coast towards the Columbia.

In my book, it makes a lot of sense to hit those fish while they are ocean-fresh, aggressively feeding and completely unsophisticated about such things as hooks and hoochies.

Another reason to fish Neah Bay is the sheer size of these fish. Every year, lucky anglers boat fish more than 40 pounds. And in a good year, 50-pounders. One more reason to fish out there is the quantity of fish.


As Terry Wiest, a longtime salmon sportfisher says, some days it's pandemonium out there. "Two rods will go off, and while you're netting those fish, another rod will go off," he said.

You can't beat that!


The best and closest access to the fishing grounds is the Makah Marina, a modern full-service facility with water, power, gas and diesel. When you enter the Makah Reservation, make sure you buy the $10 annual Recreational Use Permit, which allows access to all of the reservation's recreation facilities.

If you are planning on several days fishing, Snow Creek Resort offers complete RV, cabin and boat launch facilities. Don't have a boat? You can rent one from Big Salmon Resort.


Mike Jamboretz, owner of Jambo's Sportfishing and a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain, has clear, definite guidelines for boats operating out of Neah Bay. He says a 16-foot or larger craft, equipped with a compass, VHF radio and GPS, is the minimum for safe operation in the Strait's more protected waters. On the ocean side, where it may be a 16-mile run to the fishing grounds off Umatilla Head, he advises ramping up the boat size to 20 feet, while adding NOAA charts, radar and lots of fuel. Jamboretz lives by the Coast Guard's 1/3-2/3 rule, where you limit outbound fuel consumption to 1/3 of your total fuel, saving 2/3 for the return.

Wiest agrees, noting that often you're fishing out of sight of land in less than crystal-clear conditions. He prefers fishing the ocean in his 23-foot Shamrock equipped with the proper electronics that let him find the fish, mark the spot where a fish is hooked, and find his way back home.

Pay close attention to the weather channel and be willing to head for home if conditions start to deteriorate.

Two routes lead from Neah Bay into the ocean, both of which take you past some pretty nasty rocks. This is no place for an inexperienced boat driver. Go first with someone who knows the route and the GPS waypoints before tackling it on your own.


Trolling, mooching and vertical jigging are good techniques that catch fish. Which style you use depends on your preference for how you want to fish. Summer chinook average a bit less than 20 pounds, but Wiest and Jamboretz agree that it's pretty easy to get fish bigger -- much bigger -- than that. Honest-to-goodness 50-pounders come from Neah Bay waters, so you'll want to rig accordingly.

In other words, use the best quality hooks you can afford. Owner Cutting Point or Gamakatsu hooks in 4/0 or 5/0 are strong and sharp. Carry a hook hone just to make sure they stay sharp. The big fish swim in the same schools as the smaller fish.

Some anglers need every lure, plug, jig and rig that hits the sporting goods store shelves. But once on the water, they may spend more time changing from one thing to the other and miss out on hook-in-the-water time.

There's a better way to go about it, one that combines all three keys to attracting big salmon: sound, scent and sight.

Buy the Silver Horde Ace Hi Fly in blue and green, a handful of No. 8 Gold Wing glow beads (both green and white), some 40-pound Maxima leader, a Hot Spot Flasher -- and if you want to get fancy, a couple of wing bobbers and some Smelly Jelly.

Now, rig a 42-inch-long leader as follows: First, snell two hooks -- one point up, the other point down. Add five glow beads in alternating colors. Thread the leader through the Ace Hi Fly and start on the next one.

The stiff Maxima leader is critical, since it effectively transmits to the fly the flasher's violent side-to-side motion. The Ace Hi Fly's multi-faceted head and its sparkling Mylar and plastic skirt catch the UV light to attract fish. The flasher provides both noise and light. The Smelly Jelly does just what its name implies.

One final rigging tip: Salmon are short-strikers, so when you tie the leader, make sure the second hook extends beyond the fly skirt.

When you get ready to fish, attach the flasher to your running line. Tie the leader to the other end of the flasher. Then daub Smelly Jelly or another attractant on the rear hook, the head of the fly, the length of the leader, and the flasher.

Don't smear any on the fly skirt, or it'll clump the skirt together, defeating the fish-catching action.

Before you hitch your boat for the drive out to Neah Bay, make sure you check the current fishing regulations pamphlet for Marine Area 4's season opening and any special emergency regulations.

For those new to Neah Bay fishing, the Salmon University Web site,, has area maps, fishing and weather reports, and other great information to review before you go.


There are tons of good areas to fish inside Neah Bay. But the fishing is usually a bit tougher, if only because the fish are slightly more focused on traveling tha

n feeding.

John Keizer, co-founder of Salmon University, favors vertical jigging around Waddah Island and Duncan Rock. Keep your tackle basic by using a 50-pound, low-stretch running line, 4 to 6 feet of 25-pound monofilament leader and a white Point Wilson dart.

"If you're not vertical, you're not jigging," Keizer said. So use your motor to control drift if necessary. Special rods aren't necessary. Just be sure they have plenty of backbone and are rated for your running line.

Motor-mooching or trolling off downriggers works as well. Look for water where the bottom drops off from 100 feet down to 250 feet. Fish along the dropoff to hook the chinook following the contour lines, said Wiest. Structure-oriented chinook travel those lines as they migrate along the north edge of the Olympic Peninsula into Puget Sound. But this tactic won't work if you are fishing later in the year for coho, which swim right down the middle of the Strait.


Out here, most boats run flashers and hoochies off downriggers. If you're on the water at first light, set one rod at 30 feet, the second at 45 feet and another at 60 feet. There will be schools of fish between those extremes.

As the sun rises and the fish descend, drop your gear with them -- to about 150 feet. On occasion, the bait balls and the salmon feeding on them will be 50 fathoms down. Make sure you have lots of cable.

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