Fishing

Catching Chinook salmon on the West Coast will leave you feeling like a ‘king’ for a day

Chinook Salmon return to Idaho’s Sawtooth Hatchery

Idaho Fish and Game's Sawtooth Fish Hatchery near Stanley is an active place when adult Chinook salmon are rolling in.
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Idaho Fish and Game's Sawtooth Fish Hatchery near Stanley is an active place when adult Chinook salmon are rolling in.

There’s nothing better than a summer morning on the Puget Sound, boating through a Pacific breeze as the sun slowly rises over the Cascade Mountains.

OK, I lied. There’s ONE thing better — that exact scenario, but with a mighty Chinook salmon peeling line off your reel. That’s what my wife Anna and I were hoping to experience during our most recent visit to Seattle.

Like most coastal fishing trips, this one started dark and chilly. When our guide for the day, Captain Matt of All Rivers and Saltwater Charters, announced a 30-minute run to our first fishing hole, we dug up an extra jacket and braced for a brisk ride.

With majestic Mount Rainier and a pod of porpoises serving as welcome distractions, the boat ride passed quickly. When we arrived at our fishing grounds, I wasted no time helping Matt set up four rods — two hoochies on downriggers nearly 100 feet below the surface, and two shallower offerings trolling a shiny spoon and a cut-plug herring.

Matt nodded his approval as we began our first pass. It was opening day of what promised to be a short king salmon season on this section of the Sound, but our chilly boat run had distanced us from the thickest crowds. Tidal conditions were ideal and the finder was marking fish exactly where he hoped.

Sure enough, my rod started bouncing within 20 minutes. I removed it from the holder and felt the thrash of a mighty king salmon. It wasn’t a monster, but definitely a quality fish. It jumped once and sharked just below the surface for the last minute of the fight before Matt scooped a beautiful 9-pound king into the net.

“Well done!” Matt shouted with a quick fist bump. “Let’s get those lines back out!”

Not long after resuming our troll, my rod went off again. I called Anna over and handed it off — and as I did, I felt the unmistakable zing of drag running off the reel.

“I think this one’s a thrasher, Matt!” I predicted. Anna confirmed that suspicion as the fish pulled her toward the back of the boat. The salmon fought violently and we narrowly avoided a line tangle, but Anna kept her nerve and calmly worked the fish to the net.

There was good news and bad news as Matt examined the fish boat-side. The good: it was a whopper, easily double the size of my first Chinook. The bad: It was a wild fish, which meant we had to release it immediately, without even taking a photo.

Still, it was a great job by Anna and a great catch. After a round of high-fives, we fished on.

I landed the next fish, a big keeper that pushed into the 17-pound range, but still fell a bit shy of Anna’s clubhouse leader. The bite slowed down after that, but with several meals’ worth of fresh salmon already in the box, we kicked back and savored a heavenly 75-degree day on the Sound. Highlights included watching a bald eagle circle above our boat for several minutes before swooping low and skimming the water’s surface all the way back to shore; witnessing Grand Theft Chinook when a crafty harbor seal stole a giant salmon off another angler’s line; and, finally, enjoying a much warmer boat ride back to the marina, where an afternoon at Pike’s Place Market awaited us.

The final tally was a perfect seven-for-seven morning — three large keepers, three undersized fish that we released, and Anna’s wild whopper. We thanked Matt for a great time and headed back to town.

When you visit Seattle, there’s nothing better than feeling like kings for the day. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks with him at tightlinesboise@gmail.com or visit www.tightlines208.com.

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