Salmon Season in the San Juans

seared fish with mushrooms and asparagus
Content by Jennifer Furber, photos by Nikki Schroeder published on July 29, 2017

The most successful Pacific salmon fisherman – those who consistently come across salmon on their lines – are those who apply their knowledge of salmon habits and salmon fishing techniques on the fishing grounds. Become a pro fisherman this salmon season!

Salmon History

Salmon are an important symbol of life to the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. They are at the heart of the livelihood of coastal people, dating back some 5,000 years. All Pacific salmon species (Chinook, chum, coho, pink, and sockeye) found along the West Coast have their origin in fresh water. They begin their life in rivers and streams and leave their native freshwater homes for the sea, where they grow quickly to maturity and then return to their freshwater to spawn. History shows salmon have returned to the same fresh water source for about 18 million years. The size of each salmon varies between species. In general, Chinook are the largest of the five major Pacific species. Then, there are Chums, Coho, Sockeye, and Pinks. Chinooks often reach fifty pounds or more, while Pinks average about six pounds.

If you’re fishing for saltwater salmon for the first time, you may be surprised at the wide range of light tackle available for use to effectively hook and land a fish. Islanders catch even the largest Chinook frequently on relatively light rods. Friday Harbor is lucky to have two places to shop for salmon gear: Ace Hardware and King’s Marine, both located in the heart of town. Currently, King’s Marine lists Coho Killers, 3” Silver Hordes and Buzz Bombs as the most reliable tackle to use this month.

How Can I Fish?

If you don’t have your own boat, there are a number of fantastic guide services available on the island. North Shore Charters Fishing brings 20 years experience July 1 – October 1 for $275/person. Outer Island Excursions Fishing offers guided salmon fishing from July to October, and from December to April for $240 per person. San Juan Island Fishing Charters offers chartered salmon fishing July to October and December to April for $199 per person. Roche Harbor Charters offers guided salmon fishing July to October and November to April for $240 per person. Each guided fishing company supplies fishing gear, or you are welcome to bring your own along for the day.

“When the Tide goes Slack, Salmon Attack”

Words to live by when fishing for salmon around San Juan are, “When the tide goes slack, salmon attack.” When the tide ebbs, the sea moves down the Straits of Georgia and this creates a “river” like structure. The salmon at this point search for food behind points, in sea ditches, and anywhere the smaller bait fish can get out of the current flow. There are three main places to hunt for salmon on your own vessel.

  1. Lime Kiln Point

    Lime Kiln Point, adjacent to Deadman’s Cove, is a place to find salmon taking a breather. It’s a long run in exposed water, so this little cove is generally full of salmon feasting on baitfish – relatively close to the shore. For Chinook, keep your line between 40ft to 90ft depths. For Coho, the top 60ft of water generally hold most of the salmon. Although, fishermen have caught some larger Coho up at 150ft deep, September through October.

  2. Pile Point

    A bit more south on the island is Pile Point, just northwest of False Bay. The bottom shape of the sea has rather steep grooves and it is a great spot in both the ebb and flow of the tide. Local tip: moochers and jiggers do quite well here. Far offshore in a troller you’ll do well in the ebb of the tide fishing for Chinook, Coho and Pink. You can troll from the salmon bank at the southern tip of San Juan all the way up to this point and pick up salmon along the way, and fish the rip current for Coho.

  3. The Salmon Bank

    The Salmon Bank is the best place to fish in the San Juans so it can get a bit crowded with boats. Coho and Chinook pass through this area daily. The hardest part about Salmon Bank is the exposure to weather in the Strait of Juan De Fuca. The straight tends to have high winds and high seas. Always check a marine forecast before heading out. Coho and Pinks in the Salmon Bank can be anywhere, but show themselves by jumping or rolling atop the surface of the water. Make sure you keep an eye out in all directions. Chinook in the Salmon Bank tend to run about 60’ deep in the water.

San Juan Island is lucky to have so many fabulous species of Pacific salmon that call the waters home. Currently, Chinook salmon fishing has been fair in the waters, while silver Coho has been plentiful. Fishermen are catching Cohos from between a 90’ to 120’ ft depth. Enjoy your time on the water, whether it’s a charter or your own private boat. The fishing is plentiful and the sights are amazing.

Now, What to do with Your Salmon?

Cook it of course! Give one of Coho Restaurant’s recipes a try. We serve a fabulous Salmon with Mirin Sauce. All through salmon season, you’ll find perfectly prepared salmon featured on our regular menu and occasionally on our specials menu. The photo on the right is Chef Bill’s grilled troll caught king salmon. He serves it with seasonal vegetables, chive pesto quinoa, and a lemon caper vinaigrette.

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