As we write this, the island is flooded with warm sun, tiny wildflowers dot the hills and fields, and locals seem to float down the street in shorts and sandals with glowing smiles on their faces. The soothing warmth and clear signals of summer’s arrival puts everyone in a semi-euphoric state of mind.
With the warm months, our resident orca pods or transients are seen daily in the waters just off the west side of the island. While whale watching is often the first thought on people’s minds when visiting, they don’t often equate that with the reason for the return of the whales, which is the fish. Orcas eat salmon. Spring is when salmon are prevalent in these waters, getting fattened up before moving into the river for spawning. This is why commercial fishing in the islands was so lucrative.
Though the prospects for commercial fishing have dimmed, there is still great recreational fishing here, and wonderful opportunity for catching your own supper. Legacy Charters Captain Spencer Domico tells us that all five types of salmon move through this area during the year, most of them bound for the Frasier River, one of the largest salmon fishing areas in the world. The fish get very aggressive at feeding, and become scrappy warriors when hooked. “The shakers are fun to catch, take a picture, and throw them back.” But they’ve been catching plenty of “keepers” too.
Bottom fishing has been mostly shut down, but what remains open is very well managed. The season for the aggressive Ling Cod is short, but the 20 – 26 inch fish yields plenty of tender, tasty meat. Other than a two week period in June, these waters are wide open for recreational fishing.
Recently we had the opportunity to hear Island fishing tales from two life-long commercial fishermen. (See A Lifetime of Fishing). Their stories of San Juan Island and Friday Harbor as a small town fishing community reminds us how far we have come from that life, but also bring home how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy this bounteous region.