Hood Canal Chinook & Coho Fishing

 

 

 

When :  This fishery is divided into basically 3 different fisheries.  The southern section below  the Ayock Point 47-30-217  123-03-019 east -west line is the first to open usually on July 1.   Quilcene/Dabob Bay is next opening usually  August 16th, with the upper section from Ayock point to the Hood canal floating bridge opening September 1.

Lower Hood Canal salmon fishery opens July 1, but the fish are usually not there yet, so fishing will usually start about August 1, but not get into full swing until about the middle of the month. The Chinook will be the first to show.   The weather and water temperature will have some bearing as to how early they start coming in.  There needs to be some rain to slightly cool the water to provide a slight flush to get things into full swing.  So if there are a few days of rain the first week or so of August, you may consider getting on the water.

On the odd years, by the end of July or the 1st week of August, there is usually a run of Pink salmon in the canal.  These fish tend to stay close to the shoreline.  when they are in, you can usually see them finning on the surface.

The Ayock point cut off is to protect endangered fish from some of the upper rivers.   After these fish have entered their respective rivers, the upper canal will be opened.  There is a great Coho fishery in DaBob Bay later in September when the hatchery fish return.  This fishery is north of a true east line from Point Whitney to the Toandos Peninsula.  Daily limit is 4 Coho, with the Handling Rule in effect for all species of salmon except Coho.

Where to Fish :  The area north of Ayock Point is closed for salmon fishing until September 1.  These fish have to move down, (south) from the entrance of the canal, so early, like the first part of August, you need to target them nearer the northern boundary.   The fish entering the canal will of course be found migrating south, so where they were a week ago may not be where that school is tomorrow.   Once the rains start and more fish begin entering their home water, the schools may well blend into fish being found spread out in more locations. 

A good starting point below that location for Chinook,  for you to target would be off the mouths of any of the small rivers that empty into the canal.   Eagle Creek, Lilliwaup Creek, Skokomish and the Tahuya Rivers being the main ones for the lower canal.   Later in the season Coho can be found here also, but when they are in, about anywhere, even in the middle of the canal seems to produce.  The word from some of the old timers there is that the Chinook tend to follow the west shore, while the Coho will use the east shore more.

Trolling depth is the real question, and for the single person in a boat you are handicapped, as the more rods out at different depths, the better chance you have to locate the hot spot.  Do not expect to locate many fish in the sonar, as if they are not concentrated, you will not see then unless by chance.  In the morning, I would tend to fish shallow, near the shore, say 25' deep in 30' - 40' of water.  As the sun comes up, the fish will move out and deeper.  The depth most fish seem to be caught appear be from 40' - 80' deep,  in water of depths of 75' - 135'.  If nothing is happening then, move deeper in say 250' but still at the 75' - 135' depths as in this part of the canal the dissolved Oxygen in the water is dismal.  So the fish will find their comfort zone of both temperature & breathable water.

In the chart below the better fishing areas are highlighted in yellow, the boat launches are green. The highlighted red are marine closures with the orange are possible crab locations.  The red horizontal line would be the early boundary at Ayock Point.  On the upper or north of this chart on the west shore, will be Trident Cove State Park which has a public launch.

Starting at Ayock Point, working south, troll along the west shore.  South about a mile will be a large flat with oyster beds.  It will also be the mouth of Eagle Creek.   At low tide it is SHALLOW with the oyster beds will be showing, but at a higher tide where the creek empties into the canal, there will be a eddy formed by a shelf off the creek.  Troll south and you will then have to change directions going east or you will be getting SHALLOW.  When you make this turn out into the canal, you will many times pick up salmon that are holding in the eddy.

Lower Hood Canal Upper Hood Canal
   

About another mile south of Eagle Creek there is a gravel beach with homes on the shore.  Here many of these homeowners will have mooring buoys in the canal in front of their homes.  Fish can be caught just outside of these buoys at times.  Then just south of there will be a gravel beach that protrudes outward into the water a ways.  From this protrusion on south to where this photo on the below was taken, and continuing into Lilliwaup Bay is also good fishing.

One in the net & over the side.  This location is north of Lilliwaup Bay about a mile.  Note how close to the shore these fishermen are

Another mile or so south fishing can be productive along the shore, however there is a Marine Protective area for divers only at Sund Rock.  You will usually see divers along the shore and vehicles parked along the Highway here.  There is markers on the shore, but you need to be observant, stay away from being close to the shore here.

Below that along the shore again can be productive in front of Glen-Ayr resort.  This is one of the few boat docks in the area.  Keep trolling and you will approach Sunrise Resort, which also has a dock.  Just south of Sunrise will be the Hoodsport Hatchery where salmon tend to stack up at low tide waiting to enter Finch Creek at the hatchery as the tide starts coming back in.  Here Jigging is popular from boats.

Glen-Ayr Resort

In 2008, when I was South Sound PSA salmon derby fish weigh in on Sunrise Resort's dock, I saw 2 young men in a new 14' aluminum boat hook and land a 30# fish 2 days in a row with them jigging within 70 yards of the dock.  Neither had derby tickets, and their fish were larger that the derby winner.  Matter of fact they were so unprepared that on the first day, they had to borrow a landing net to get the fish aboard.

Aerial view of the Hoodsport Hatchery at VERY LOW tide with Sunrise Resort on the right & the Hoodsport dock on the far left

Farther sough and east of the Potlatch boat launch out in front of the mouth of the Skokomish, off the point of land at Union, the fish tend to also stack up depending on the tide and weather conditions.  This is also a good trolling location.  It can also be a very good jigging location as well as across the canal and east a bit off the mouth of the Tahuya River.  One thing for the Tahuya, there is really no channel as it flattens out so much, I have not been able to fins a main river entrance that a boater can use.

Method:  If you ask 20 fishermen their preferred method, you will get at least 20 different answers.  Here we will give a some methods which you can choose what fits you.  One thing here is that they usually are not deep, as recent years the dissolved Oxygen is very low as this body of water is dead ended, with no large rivers flowing into it from the southern end, to the point the WDFW has closed taking of any bottomfish.  With this in mind, the salmon will tend to not go deep, as they will have problems breathing.  A fishing depth will usually be from 35' to 40', in water up to 150' deep.  There is no need to go out in the middle or try to go deep at the 400' depths.  Trolling with downriggers is probably the most common method, with trolling with divers next with jigging following that.

Trolling for Chinook: This area does not have to be fished with downriggers, however if you have them and are used to using them, go for it.  For Chinook, one local "expert" uses a 4oz kidney sinker, 30" of 30# mono to a Sliver Horde Double D #10 flasher, then the lure may be a Coho killer, Coyote spoon in Army Truck, Wonder Bread or Glo green/white.  Occasionally he will use a FST spoon or he has been known to scrounge yard sales for peal wobblers in 1 1/2" to 2".  These spoons are tied to a leader 2 1/2 times the length of the flasher.  Speed will be adjusted from 1.5 to 2.3 mph or so the flasher will just rock back and forth.  He fishes shallower than most, in that he only fishes  20-30' deep in 30-50' of water.

Using the above information, a person without downriggers is not handicapped here, as a Deep Six diver would get you down & perform quite well especially if you troll in 25' or 30' of water near shore.

At times there may be a considerable number of Jellyfish here.  You may also encounter floating weeds, especially during a maximum tidal exchange as when a -1.5' + low tide occurs.  Normally the weeds are not a serious problem, the exception is the photo below.

In this photo, some of the weeds had already fallen off before the camera was grabbed.
 

One thing that has been observed, is that most of the time this water is warm.  I observed the water temperature at a high tide in the middle of August at 65 degrees and at 70 degrees a the the low part of the outgoing tide. Later when there was a rain the temp went down to 58 degrees.  The fish may tend to drift into deeper water to find a more comfortable zone.  But in doing so, they tend to become lethargic because of the low dissolved Oxygen in the water.  What this means to you as a fisherperson, is that IF you have to follow the dethfinder's fish, you then may have to slow your speed down.  As these fish being in the lower dissolved Oxygen layer, are slowed down so you then will need to present the lure in a slow enough fashion so that if it is close enough to them, that they have enough time to consider taking the lure.

These fish also tend to darken up some even after just a few days in the canal, possibly because of the water temperature.

Another observation is that when these fish show, they appear to react similar to the estuary fish, in that the bright "new" fish that come in, tend to be the biters.  I believe that once the fish get in any body of water on their return trip to the home stream, that they get acclimated and then they do not bite anywhere near like fresh fish to the area. The fresh fish seem to bite the normal tackle.  

As these fish extend their stay, then it may be best to switch from trolling gear to jigging.  So it may behoove you to be sure that you have a few jigs in your salmon tackle box, even though you are not a jigger, as if they are not biting trolling it may save the day, instead of giving up and going home early.  If you happen to find a considerable number of fish in a particular area but can not entice them to bite while trolling,  all the more reason to consider switching over to jigging as described below.

Jigging From a Boat :  When jigging, you will need a good fishfinder.  Locate some fish then stay jigging with them if they move.  Point Wilson Darts in a 3.5" size, Buzz Bombs and Grim Reapers seem to be the lure of choice for many.  I have seen some jiggers jerking the whole rod considerably high in the air, moving the jig probably 6' at a time.  These people either have the wrong rod, have been taught wrong, or are deliberately snagging.  The rod needs to be a medium heavy but with a fast taper on the tip, otherwise you are going to wear yourself out moving the whole rod a lot but the lure is only moving a little. 

Some fisherpersons will drift with the tide/wind while others, especially if near the hatchery, will anchor and cast toward what they perceive as possible schools of fish.

Some may try to use Buzz Bombs from the shore or a dock, which can be effective, as these Chinook tend to stay close to the shores, as evidenced by some of the Skokomish Indian gillnets near shore and their use of beach seines.

Casting From the Beach at the Hatchery :  This is something that everyone should at least observe.  You can park then walk thru the hatchery parking lot and past the ponds to the SW corner of the hatchery.  From here you can walk the "cat walk" & climb down to the beach.  WDFW regs state that no fishing can be done from the actual hatchery property.  Finch Creek flows along the south edge, then past the hatchery and is used for the water in the hatchery, so these fish are imprinted to return here.  The creek out into the canal is narrow, 20' and shallow 6".  If the fish are there and wanting to return to the hatchery, on an incoming tide of about 1/2 way in, they will be in schools just off the beach.  They will swim up the creek to the hatchery, (about 100 yards).  The creek is so shallow, part of the fish will be out of the water as they wriggle up the creek, you can see this commotion from some distance.

These fisherpersons can be dressed in normal clothing, just standing on the beach at a low tide, or from those that are using chest waders and in water up to their chest when the tide is in.  They may tend to wait until they see a fish jump or roll & then cast toward it.  The lures are usually a 1/4 ounce lead sinker tied onto the end of the line, then a leader of about 36" to a orange corkie about 1/2" dia. with a single hook and red or green yarn attached.  The regulars there tend to discourage those who may show up with a spinner, saying that it spooks the fish when cast into that shallow water.  Some of the fishers who wade out farther may use Buzz Bombs of about 3 1/2" size.

The rules appear to be that you CAN fish the salt water, but NOT the freshwater of the creek.  However as the tide comes in the creek soon becomes saltwater.

      Chinook Salmon with their backs out of the water               Aug 22 2004                 A line of fisherpersons off the hatchery
    coming up one fork of the creek as the tide starts in

Tackle for Coho : The Coho will start showing about the end of August, with September being considered about the best time depending on the weather, but still into October can be good.

Some of the Chinook lures will also work for these fish, but you may want to consider changing to a redish orange Wriggle Wart, Spi-N-Glo or any of the more typical Coho lures.  If you do go to the Wriggle Warts, then remove the triple hooks, replacing them with a single Siwash, OR a double single Siwash back to back.  You will get more fish into the boat, in that it seems that the triple hooks tend to not get hooked as good then when the fish is fighting, will pull out easier.

Where to Launch :  One thing common with most launches here is that the water off the shores are not deep so there is usually a problem launching or reloading at a low tide.  There few to choose from in this area, but the main ones will be as follows.    

((1) Hood Canal Saltwater Park was built by Tacoma Public Utilities and is across the road from the powerhouse they operated at Potlatch.  This boat launch was transferred to the Skokomish Tribe in 2011 and is now known as Skokomish Park at Potlatch.

This launch was rebuilt  by Tacoma Power (August 2006), a 2 lane concrete ramp with lots of gravel parking, with the preparation area on the north side of the ramp.   During the peak fishing times it can become full.   No loading dock, but a decent gravel shore on both sides of the launch to beach the boat on.   Well maintained public restrooms are open at 8:00AM (due to vandalism).  Large picnic areas around the perimeter of the parking area are available also.  Not for launching or recovering at a tide below -.70 as way to shallow. 

The boat launch fee is $7 and $8 to park a trailer.  There will be no charge to use the restrooms or to park and use the picnic grounds.  For further information contact Skokomish Indian Tribal Enterprises  360-877-2024.

(2) There are a couple of private launches on the west side of the canal, one being at Mike's Beach Resort about 15 miles north of Hoodsport.  This one you have to let him back your boat in with his jeep that he has a hitch on the front.  Not for boats over 20'.  And a low tide may be a hindrance.

(3) There is a sling at Rest-A-While campground, but not usable at a low tide because of shallow water.

(4) Trident Cove State Park is located on the west shore about 19 miles north of Hoodsport.  It is a wide single lane concrete ramp with a dock.  The paved parking area is up on the same level as the Hiway, while there is a road from there down the hill to the launch area.  There is a picnic area.  $7 launch fee.  As of 2011 the Discover Pass is needed to park there.

(5) Union Ramp, operated by Mason County.  A 2 lane concrete ramp with no dock, that is immediately West of the Hood Canal Marina.  Very limited parking.

(6) Twanoh State Park.  This launch has a 2 lane concrete ramp with 2 loading docks, however the Washington State Parks Dept. may pull docks for the winter by the time Chum are in.  No water off the concrete ramp at a minus tide and DON'T try to back out on the gravel, as it is soft.  Plenty of paved parking.  
There is a picnic area. $7 launch fee.   As of 2011 the Discover Pass is needed to park there.

(7)  Seabeck Marina on the east shore has a sling.

(8) Misery Point single concrete public launch is maintained by WDFW on the east shore south of Seabeck at the end of the Miami Beach Rd.

(9) The launch near Quilcene operated by the Port of Port Townsend is a single lane concrete ramp with a floating dock. 
  

(10)
There is another launch at Point Whitney shellfish lab, but it is recommended for use with 4 wheel drive vehicles only as there is lots of gravel on the ramp.

(11) Salsbury Point park on the east shore just north of Hood Canal bridge.  It has a double concrete ramp with a dock between.

Hood Canal Saltwater Park at Potlatch, 2004 Off the lower end of the "New" Hood Canal Saltwater Park at Potlatch, 7-14-07 2007 10:30AM  with a minus 3' at noon
 

Union launch at a 1.5' minus tide

Twanoh State Park launch

 

Twanoh State Park at a 3' minus tide Salsbury Point Park

 

Seals :   These furry creatures can be a problem at times.  One solution is to have a strong enough mainline, 25#, and a 30# + leader so that if the seal takes your fish, you can run the boat right over the top of him then keep above him.  He can not eat the fish under water.  He will have to eventually come up for air.  When he does you can most likely get your fish back.  One key thing here is to this is to use the newer bright colored line.  This will help you see where the line is going toward the seal.  Maybe for you younger people a regular colored line way be OK, but just wait until you get older and join the Moldy Old Foggy club.

 

Copyright 2004 - 2015 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 08-30-04,Last updated 12-26-2014                                                                    
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